“King Elizabeth” at the Gamm (Pawtucket, RI)


By Richard Pacheco


The Gamm is doing a new version of Frederich Schiller’s “Mary Stewart” adapted and directed by Gamm Artistic Director Tony Estrella. While there are some slow moments in it, the acting is excellent and vibrant.

Estrella has taken the 217-year-old play of gender politics and tried to make it more accessible for contemporary audiences. Schiller tells the tale of the battle between Queen Elizabeth and her archrival and cousin Mary Stewart with Mary’s 19-year imprisonment and eventual execution. To do so, he takes a look at gender politics.


The two women were at the time they loved the two most powerful in England and rivals for the throne there. One of the other aspects in the play is the then rivalry between Catholics and Protestants in England at the time. It is intense and vibrant as their disagreement grow an Elizabeth often finds her wishes at odds with her advisors, who often view her as weak and not in control.


Jennie Kane is Elizabeth. She is proud, a bit aloof, and reluctant to kill her cousin Mary to protect her throne. She manages to wriggle in between the intricacies of political bantering and disagreements. She knows how to handle the men who constantly attempt to rule over her and get in the way of her wishes. She is determined and stalwart, aware of her position and unafraid to fight for it, to maintain it and transcend it. Kane is winning in the role, the epitome of poise and style. She is elegant and restrained with conviction and passion.


Marianna Bassham is Mary Queen of Scots, the Catholic pretender to the throne of England and Elizabeth’s cousin. She has been imprisoned for 19 years at the mercy of Elizabeth. She is stalwart in her determination to keep things as friendly as possible, not very easy under the circumstances.  She is every inch the match for Elizabeth, ready to go the distance with her, no mater what it takes. Yet she is also weakening under the strains of imprisonment, showing sign of wear and weariness. Bassham brings Mary to life with vigor, energy and honesty. She aptly captures Mary’s mixed feelings and passionate desire to reverse the circumnutates if possible.


The two of them are excellent together with the right balance of passion and intellect, the mixture of a fierce fight literally to the death even with Elizabeth’s reluctance to send her cousin to death by beheading. Wendy Overly is Mary’s nurse, loyal and steadfast no matter what it takes. She is supportive and practical, a true ally as well as servant. Overly is sincere and vibrant in the role.


The rest of the cast is winning support, full of vitality and finesse. There is Sir Amyas Paulet, played by Richard Noble, who accepts his role as Mary’s protector and jailer. He knows his duty and fearlessly pursues it while never losing his sense of reason and common sense. There is the ruthless and inflexible Lord Burleigh, Elizabeth’s advisor, played with conviction and poise by Cliff Odle, Justin Blanchard is Leicester, who loves both queens with conviction and honesty, genuinely torn between them, caught in the tangle of his convoluted facts which are necessarily alternative to truths. Then there is Clara Wesihan as Davison, the Queen’s secretary who is ensnared in the miasma of middle management, a dangerous place to be amidst all the relentless intrigues which abound.


Tony Estrella directs with conviction and energy that in his adaptation he transforms into something more bout the 21st century than the 15th century. The costumes by Amanda Downing Carney are contemporary and work very well.  The set is minimal with two large post modern images of queens on the back walls. That is all that is necessary. It is a winning production full of fine acting. While at times the play seems to strain for contemporary relevance, it is a good vehicle for the talented cast.


It continues at the Gamm until May 28. Shows are at 7 pm except for Friday and Saturday when they are at 8 and on Sunday with a matinee at 2 pm and show at 7 pm. Tickets are $44.75 – $52.75. http://www.gammtheatre.org/   172 Exchange Street, Pawtucket, RI 02860  |  BOX OFFICE :  401-723-4266​​


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