Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tutor face off.
Boston's Huntington Theatre Company is currently producing Mary Stuart, written by the German dramatist Friedrich Schiller in 1800, which is generally regarded as the definitive classical telling of Mary's story, one of the greatest works of historical drama ever, and Schiller's masterpiece. The play was written between April 1799 and June 1800, and opened at the Court Theatre in Weimar, Germany, on June 14, 1800, where the premiere was produced and directed by Goethe. After Schiller's death in 1805, the play was translated and widely produced throughout Europe.
The first American productions of Mary Stuartwere in 1871 at the Boston Theatre and the New York Academy of Music. The play was especially popular during the late 19th century, when the title role became associated with the celebrated Polish actress Helena Modjeska (1840-1909), who toured internationally as Mary for 20 years.
"Madame Modjeska" performed Mary Stuart in Boston more than a dozen times between 1880 and 1900. In 1900, the Boston Transcript wrote of Modjeska's production: "The play is great all round and all through; history may be treated somewhat cavalierly in it, but it shows a poetic force and beauty of conception, a sustained power in execution, and a matured technique such as belong only to true greatness."
During the 20th century, Schiller's play has been less often produced in the U.S. due to its extensive requirements of cast and spectacle. American playwright Maxwell Anderson adopted many of the elements of Schiller's text for Mary of Scotland, a verse drama which opened on Broadway in 1933 starring Helen Hayes. Although now widely acknowledged as inferior to Schiller's historic tragedy, Anderson's play became the more regularly produced account of the clash of queens for many years in this country; it was filmed in 1936 starring Katharine Hepburn as Mary and Florence Eldridge as Elizabeth.
In 1981, Mary Stuart was produced in Los Angeles, directed by Jack O'Brien and starring Marsha Mason as Mary and Michael Learned as Elizabeth. It was described by the Los Angeles Times as " a dark, rich Baroque canvas of two great queens who can send the throne room to its knees with one look." In 1997, Richard Eyre staged Mary Stuart at London's National Theatre, translated by Jeremy Sams and starring Isabelle Huppert in the title role. Long-rumored plans for a film version, to have been directed by Richard Eyre and starring Meryl Streep as Mary and Glenn Close as Elizabeth, have recently been discontinued.
Three years ago, the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco commissioned a new translation by Village Voice critic Michael Feingold. Staged by A.C.T.'s Artistic Director Carey Perloff, it received its premiere in April 1998 to critical acclaim. The San Francisco Examiner described the production as "fervent and impassioned, as visually splendid as it is bold...filled with youthful energy and sexual vitality." Perloff and Feingold continued to refine the text for the Huntington production, which was produced in association with A.C.T.