ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Elizabeth I wears a crown like a “prison cell with jewels” because it strips the free will from the woman who wears it.
Mary, Queen of Scots languishes in prison as she awaits her fate.
Catholic and Protestant, lover and virgin; the pair could be two sides of the same coin. But politics and ruthless ambition tear them apart as one heads to the gallows.
“Mary Stuart” opens at the Vortex Theatre on Friday, Feb. 16.
“She always had the better claim to the throne because Elizabeth was a bastard,” director Frederick Ponzlov said.
In the eyes of many Catholics, Elizabeth was illegitimate, and Mary, as the senior descendant of Henry VIII’s elder sister, was the rightful queen of England.
The play by Friedrich Schiller depicts the last days of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary is imprisoned in England – nominally for the murder of her husband, Darnley, but actually due to her claim to the throne of England held by Queen Elizabeth I.
Elizabeth kept her cousin imprisoned for 19 years.
The play imagines a meeting between the two royals that never actually occurred.
“The play is political intrigue,” Ponzlov said. “It’s contemporary. The whole play is about how do we orchestrate a murder and get away with it?”
Elizabeth was the intellect, while Mary was driven by passion. As long as Mary was alive, the threat of revolution simmered.
Elizabeth “believed she had the right; she hated the fact that (her mother) Anne Boleyn was killed,” Ponzlov said. “Mary is the victim of her passions. Elizabeth’s whole goal is to make Mary lose it. She goads her to make that point.”
Mary finally breaks down and says, “You should be bowing to me.”
“(Elizabeth) was always haunted by Mary’s death,” Ponzlov said. “She orchestrates it so it doesn’t fall on her.
“She was still talking about it on her deathbed.”
To convey the play’s timelessness, Ponzlov is dressing the women in period costumes, while the men wear the “Mad Men” suits of the ’50s and ’60s. The set is cubist-inspired; the music is by Bartok.
“Politics never change,” Ponzlov said, “just the players of the game of power. These women are both controlled by the world of men around them, even as they battle each other for position. The saddest part is that they could have been powerful allies and loving sisters.”