Review: Mary Stuart at the Davis Shakespeare Festival

Left to right: Gregg Koski, Jamie Jones (Queen Elizabeth I) and Hans Eleveld.

Left to right: Gregg Koski, Jamie Jones (Queen Elizabeth I) and Hans Eleveld.

Photo courtesy of Yarcenia Garcia

Thu, Fri, Sat, Sun, performance times vary. Through 8/4; $30-$15; Davis Shakespeare Festival at Veterans Memorial Theatre, 203 E. 14th Street in Davis; (530) 802-0998;
Rated 5.0

We’ve come to expect good work from Davis Shakespeare. Even so, Mary Stuart arrives as this summer’s bonus, a strong modern mounting of a classic with two powerhouse professionals as leads, Jamie Jones (Queen Elizabeth I), and Sharon Rietkerk (Mary Stuart, a.k.a Mary, Queen of Scots). Both queens claim rights to England’s crown; their rivalry turns this drama into a political/strategic pressure cooker, with director Rob Salas ramping up the heat.

Surrounding the sovereigns are their fawning courtiers—strategizing spin-doctors, passing secret messages and plotting (a risky game). Ian Hopps is kinetic as the firebrand Mortimer; Gregg Koski plays shrewd backroom manipulator Burleigh; Gina Harrower is Mary’s steadfast lady-in-waiting; Will Oberholtzer plays cautious greybeard Talbot; Hans Eleveld is the charismatic opportunist Leicester, making romantic overtures to both queens.

But the contending queens call the shots. Mary risks execution if she challenges Elizabeth directly, and Elizabeth doesn’t want the blame for Mary’s death. But neither will back down and only one can survive. Their landmark showdown scene is taut and tragic, followed by a somber finale.

The costumes (Caitlin Cisek) and set (Liz Hadden-McGuire) hint at centuries past, but lean more toward dark dystopia. Richard Chowenhill’s apprehensive music adds tension. The script—a modern translation of Friedrich Schiller’s German text from 1800—pays dramatic dividends.

This critic has been waiting years to see this kind of summer festival launch locally. Davis Shakespeare, emerging as our newest professional theater company, is making that happen.