image by Meghan Strell & Charlie Levin
"Intellectually satisfying...surprising, strange, abstract
melding of sharp-edged performance art and grand theatrical traditions..."
Local Infinities and Raging Papist, at the Lunar Cabaret.
The rivalry for the English throne between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots has probably never before been given the postmodern design Local Infinities gives it in The Queens Project. Inspired by Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart and the tragic fact that the two sisters never met, although their conflict produced minor wars, assassination plots, and Mary's much dramatized beheading, this history piece seems as rigorous and detailed (and sometimes as long-winded) as any docudrama. Yet the two queens inhabit a world of cold steel and raw pine blocks; perched on stilts, they scratch out decrees with a large nail on bits of metal. The set and plain costumes effectively reduce the characters' world to a geometric structure of metal and wood; the two queens seem victims trapped in a sharp-edged, untrustworthy machine. Emphasizing its dangers are the production's formal language and dignified, courtly postures, stripping the story down to the political relationship between the women and their courts and eliminating the seductive lushness of ornate costumes and Elizabethan pageantry. Elizabeth's legendary virginity and Mary's search for power through her husbands--drawn in almost obsessive detail but visually detached from the women's histories--are essentially case studies of the different strategies women use for protection and influence. An intellectually satisfying, oddly unemotional experience, The Queens Project is an admirable experiment that achieves a surprising, strange, and abstract grace.
THE QUEENS PROJECT
The Queens Project, a melding of sharp-edged performance art and grand theatrical traditions, revisits in metaphoric terms the conflict between the monarchs Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart.
Two performance troupes, Local Infinities and Raging Papist, have collaborated on a staging whose inventive visuals speak as loudly as the historical text. The close confines of Lunar Cabaret pull audiences into the action, while the "funhouse mirror" stage illusions appear to pour out across the footlights.
According to historical documents, Queen Elizabeth I of England and Mary, Queen of Scots, allegedly never met, though their disputes led to bloodshed over who was the heir to the throne of England. Heeding advisers, Elizabeth sentenced Mary to death for treason.
The Queens Project explores the obstacles shoved in these two powerful women's paths that prevented them from meeting and perhaps changing the course of history.
Local Infinities' clever design elements, most notably having the two rulers command the stage while walking on stilts, create a stark atmosphere. The sets feature wooden steps, stainless steel writing tablets (that double as daggers) and large nails for pens. Crates have such multiple uses as an executioners block, thrones and prison cells. The set design hurls us into a cold, mechanistic future reminiscent of Leonardo da Vinci's scientific blueprints.
Through a kind of minimalist artistry, the opening scene of a beheading brilliantly symbolizes misguided barbarism. Any attempt at Elizabethan fanfare is stripped to the bone and sinew of the human condition.
All of this said, The Queens Project seems fragmented. Elizabeth's well-documented arguments against marriage and Mary's tragic unions are given great attention, but in a cliff Notes fashion. The artists have incorporated numerous scholarly sources in the script, yet they only scratch the surface of the women's destinies. For a deeper intellectual impact, this work requires a better understanding of the complex circumstances that led to such deadly struggles within Elizabeth's court.
Directing team Meghan Strell and Charlie Levin thrust their cast into a harrowing whirl of political conspiracy. The pacing, however, is hampered occasionally by the leads' cumbersome crutch-like stilts.
Sharon Gopfert's provocative Elizabeth reveals an
intricate network of emotion that shifts from tenderness to callous self-defense.
As her reluctant nemesis, Tanera Marshall's Mary merges saintliness with
gracious sensuality. Russell Hardin, Kelly Van Kirk, Rick Kubes and Jonathan
Watkins show their versatility in multiple roles.
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