One Queen Too Many

Two queens.  One rules England, though her claim to the throne is sketchy at best.  Another is imprisoned in a gilded cage with the threat of the axe looming over here, but still harboring hopes for freedom and the English throne.  The two engage in a private war fought mostly by proxy in which only one queen can survive.  This is Mary Stuart, an adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s play by Peter Oswald and playing at the Joslyn Castle under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

Schiller’s play is a nifty historical thriller.  He clearly had great understanding of the history of this particular period of the Tudors as well as great insight into human nature as his play touches on lust, betrayal, conspiracy, Machiavellism, and ambition run amok.  The story is completely dialogue driven, but every conversation and monologue builds to a climax of its own which serves to keep the audience’s attention glued to the tale.  Peter Oswald has updated the language to be more understandable to a modern audience yet still retain the feel of Schiller’s original story.

Lara Marsh provides an exceptionally strong bit of direction to this story.  Her actors never let the pace drag in the talky production, not by speaking faster, but by closing the spaces between their words, letting the dialogue retain its meaning.  Ms Marsh understands every jot and tittle of the play, expertly guiding her actors through the story’s numerous climaxes and resolutions, coaching her players to extremely realistic performances which was rendered more difficult with the audience up so close and personal to the performers, and making full use of the tiny performance space with impeccable staging.

There wasn’t a weak link in the large cast (beautifully costumed by Wesley Pourier), but there were several standouts in supporting roles.  These included MaryBeth Adams as Mary Stuart’s loyal and feisty servant, Hanna Kennedy; Steve Denenberg and Adam Hogston as Amias Paulet and George Talbot, who are the only court members truly concerned with Queen Elizabeth I’s welfare; and Eric Grant-Leanna as Davision, a nervous and befuddled new appointee to the court who falls victim to Elizabeth’s machinations.

Delaney Driscoll brings power and regality to the role of Mary Stuart.  Although she’s been imprisoned for the last quarter century, Ms Driscoll’s Mary Stuart is still every inch a queen.  It’s an astonishingly multifaceted performance as Ms Driscoll gracefully glides between being assured in her royalty in an early confrontation with Lord Burleigh (played by John Hatcher), to softer, gentler moments with Hanna, to being desperate and vindictive when she finally meets Elizabeth I, to a calm, but firm assurance of her right to rule England and her standing before God when she makes her final confession.

Charleen Willoughby’s take on Elizabeth I is almost the flip side of Mary Stuart.  Where Stuart is full of confidence and certainty in her right to be England’s queen, Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is plagued with self-doubt and insecurity.  Knowing that her right to rule is tainted by her illegitimate birth, Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is determined to overcome that taint by being the perfect queen.  That drive for perfection actually prevents her from taking decisive action and she is constantly seeking the counsel of her court.

But take care as Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is not as weak and willowy as she likes to pretend.  She does hold her own strong opinions and is not afraid to stick to her guns.  She is also very adept at manipulating situations to accomplish her darker whims while salving her conscience.

Eddie McGonigal plays Mortimer, the play’s lone fictitious character.  Mortimer is a traitor to the English throne and spearheads a rescue operation to liberate Mary Stuart and get her the English crown.  McGonigal’s performance is sensational as his Mortimer is so loaded with arrogance, it’s practically seeping out of his pores  If that isn’t bad enough, Mortimer’s grip on sanity is tenuous at best as he fancies himself an avenging angel doing God’s will in saving Mary Stuart.  He also lusts for a sexual relationship with the Queen of Scots culminating in a near rape of her at the end of Act I.

Few actors bring the type of naturalness John Hatcher brings to a role.  As William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, Hatcher always sounds extemporaneous, doubly impressive given the heinousness of his character.  Hatcher’s precise inflection choices beautifully animate his subtly bloodthirsty character with just the right touches of anger, manipulation, and snide pride.  Lord Burleigh wants Mary Stuart dead at all costs to solidify his power base with Elizabeth I and will do anything to make it happen such as softly cajoling Elizabeth into signing the death warrant for the good of England or gently putting the screws to Paulet to let an assassin reach Mary Stuart.  It is one of the night’s most mesmerizing performances.

You would think that Lord Burleigh would be the story’s primary villain, but I believe that (dis)honor goes to David Mainelli’s portrayal of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.  I consider Mainelli’s performance to be his one of his finest due to the difficulty of this character.  Where Burleigh is open and up front with his villainy, Maninelli’s Dudley is a despicable, slimy worm working from the shadows.

Machiavelli is put to shame with Dudley’s machinations.  He loves power so much that he dumped his fiancée, Mary Stuart, because he thought he could do better and began wooing Elizabeth I.  Then he gets involved in the rescue operation of Mary Stuart because he still loves her and then turns on her when the rescue fails and his own survival is at stake.  In all of his oiliness, Mainelli manages to give Dudley a small kernel of decency with his regret at betraying Mary Stuart and finally makes a noble sacrifice to expiate his guilt.

Nearly every character in this play has an ulterior motive.  Elizabeth I needs to remove Mary Stuart to legitimize her claim to the throne.  Mary Stuart needs her freedom to usurp the throne from Elizabeth I.  Robert Dudley needs to increase his power base by any means necessary.  Mortimer wants to save Mary Stuart to be her lover.  Lord Burleigh wants to maintain his own power base and keep England separate from its enemies (all other countries in his mind).  These motives make these characters utterly hateful, but also make for a most compelling night of theatre as well.

Mary Stuart will play at the Joslyn Castle under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company from May 4-25.  Showtimes are Wed-Fri at 7:30pm.  There will be one Saturday performance at 7:30pm on May 6 and no performance on Friday, May 5.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors/military).  For tickets, please call the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at 402-502-4910 or visit www.bsbtheatre.com.  The Joslyn Castle is located at 3902 Davenport St in Omaha, NE.

 

The Story of the Lost Tudor

Mary Stuart AKA Mary, Queen of Scots was not the most liked of people.  She was Queen of France by marriage and Queen of Scotland by blood.  After losing the French throne due to the death of her husband, Francis II, Mary Stuart moved to Scotland to claim her royal throne and rule over a less than enthused citizenry.  The murder of her second husband, Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, began a chain reaction that would end with Mary abdicating the Scottish throne, fleeing to England to seek sanctuary from her first cousin once removed, Queen Elizabeth I, and ultimately be imprisoned and executed ostensibly for the murder of Lord Darnley, but, in actuality, due to her attempting to claim the English throne.

A dramatized version of the aftermath of Mary Stuart’s trial will be presented by the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company in the play Mary Stuart opening May 4 at the Joslyn Castle and starring Charleen Willoughby as Elizabeth I and Patty Driscoll as Mary Stuart.

The centerpiece of the play is a fictional conversation between Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart, but the play is not simply about the two queens.  It is the story of multiple factions jockeying for power as conspiracy mounts upon conspiracy in a secret war that can only end with one queen standing.

Director Lara Marsh said, “[Directing this production] is a guilty pleasure” due to her love of the Tudors.  She further stated, “People often forget that Mary was a Tudor and had a legitimate claim to the throne of England. . .It’s time that Mary’s story was told.”

Indeed, as the grandniece of Henry VIII, Mary Stuart’s claim to the throne may have been stronger than Elizabeth I’s as she was the illegitimate child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.

Prepare yourselves for an explosive night of theatre where you’ll be thrust into a web of intrigue as one queen schemes for her freedom and another tries to prove her legitimacy.

Mary Stuart will play at the Joslyn Castle under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company from May 4-25.  Showtimes are Wed-Fri at 7:30pm.  There will be one Saturday performance at 7:30pm on May 6 and no performance on Friday, May 5.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors/military).  For tickets, please call the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at 402-502-4910 or visit www.bsbtheatre.com.  The Joslyn Castle is located at 3902 Davenport St in Omaha, NE.

 

Cotton Patch Redux, Day 1: Sanctuary

036

The Woodward

Hello, dear readers, it’s nice to see you again.  I’m so glad you are able to join me for one of my biggest projects to date.

For my regular readers, you may remember that over the summer I visited the town of Whitehall, MI so I could review the play Cotton Patch Gospel at the Howmet Playhouse.  Due to the success of that review, I pursued an opportunity with the Repertory Company Theatre of Richardson, TX which offered me a free ticket to review its production of that show.  So I found myself on a frosty February morning heading down south to enjoy a worshipful play and escape from Old Man Winter’s grip on Omaha.

Continuing the weather trend from my escapades in Iowa over the holiday season, Omaha was hammered by a winter storm the day before I was set to leave for Texas.  Thankfully, this time I did not have to drive in it and the road crews had a chance to clean things up pretty well before I went on my way.

One of the more enjoyable things about this drive was that I was finally seeing some new scenery.  There are two main interstates out of the city (I-29 and I-80) that I normally have to take whenever I begin these excursions.  This time, I got to take Hwy 75 pretty much straight to my first stop in Topeka, KS.

It was very peaceful to travel through the smaller towns of Nebraska and enjoy traditional Americana.  I also considered it to be a fast forward view to spring as I watched winter’s clutch on the state weaken the further south I got.  By the time I reached the Nebraska City area, the snow was a mere dusting and by the time I reached Auburn it was gone, though the weather was still quite cold.

The first leg of the drive seemed to go faster than normal as I admired the countryside and listened to the tunes of my MP3.  Before I knew it I had arrived in Kansas’ capital city.

My first stop was at the Woodward Inns at Fillmore which is a hop, skip, and jump from the capitol building.  The Woodward is far more than a B & B.  It’s a little village of its own consisting of one gothic mansion, three stately executive inns, and three family inns with an eighth property set to open later this year that will be a luxury extended stay.

I was staying in the main inn, a Tudor mansion built in 1923 for Chester Woodward who wanted his final estate to be as authentically English as possible.  It is an impressive abode which boasts charmingly gothic rooms and a 2 ½ story library modeled after the King Henry VIII library found at London’s Hampton Hall.  It also features a year round lap pool heated to 90 degrees, though it was closed for cleaning due to a recent storm.

The mansion was bought by Elizabeth Taylor (not the actress) in 1994 who had built a successful lobbying firm in the Topeka area.  Hearing the call of God to take care of others, she gave up her lobbying career to enter the hospitality field and begin building the empire of the Woodward.

Elizabeth was a most gracious host.  She is extremely knowledgeable about the Topeka area and is a fascinating conversationalist.  She gave me a tour of the mansion and offered to show me some of the other properties after breakfast the next morning.  After exploring the main inn, Elizabeth led me to the Master, my home for the night.

This room was almost too much room for one person.  The room boasts a large 4 poster bed with a fireplace (put to good use on this chilly night and morning) and sitting room.  After getting my stuff settled, my thoughts turned to dinner.

Elizabeth had suggested an eatery run by a friend of hers called the Blind Tiger Brewery and recognized for world championship caliber beers.  The building is quite unique.  I didn’t notice it from the outside, but once I got indoors, the place reminded me of a 3-D puzzle due to its construction and branching hallways.  It would be rather easy to get lost in this place.

044

Blind Tiger Brewery

For my dinner, I did a rarity and sampled some of the beers due to its championship reputation.  I had samples of brown ale, Munich Dunkles, pale ale, and raw wheat.  I enjoyed the brown ale and the raw wheat the most.  For my entrée, I enjoyed the Texas Roadrunner which was a grilled chicken breast topped with beef brisket, cheeses, and peppers served on a bed of rice and steak fries.

The Blind Tiger Brewery apparently has a haunted history as Elizabeth suggested I ask about the ghost tour which I did, but there wasn’t anybody there who knew enough about the history to tell me the story.  So I returned to the mansion, organized some photos, set up the artificial fire for the night and hit the hay.

I awoke the next morning feeling ravenous.  I headed to the dining room where I found goblets of water and black cherry/cranberry juice waiting for me.  I sipped the glass of juice and found the fusion of the two fruits worked very well.

Within a few moments, Elizabeth brought me my breakfast which was an oven baked pancake with orange maple syrup, cream, blueberries, and bananas.  I managed to eat the fruit, but only made it halfway through the pancake before I felt full.

002

Oven baked pancake with fruit and black cherry/cranberry juice

After breakfast, Elizabeth had her associate, Sarah, show me around her new properties called the Woodward Row Houses.  These will be luxury extended stay rooms and they look very nice.  My favorite was the basement studio apartment which is one of the nicest apartments I have ever seen.

Alas, it seemed my time came to an end too soon.  Currently I am putting the finishing touches on this article before beginning the next leg of my journey which will bring me to Norman, OK.

But if you are in the Topeka area, take some time to visit one of the many rooms of the Woodward.  You will find rooms suited to all tastes on the financial spectrum and one amazing innkeeper in Elizabeth Taylor.