St. Mary’s City, MD- Mary Stuart gains a chance at the throne, but when framed for murder, fortune turns against her and the trial of her guilt begins, with her one-time political opponent left to decide her fate.

As the audience walks in, they are thrust into a polling station to cast ballots for the Republican Elizabeth Tudor and Democrat Mary Stuart. Before the prologue is over, a murder has already taken place, overshadowing the tone of the remaining presentation. Featuring political prisoners, a sleazy sycophant playing both sides, a blood thirsty adviser and a Queen constrained by her need for the people’s approval, the play brings an entertaining spin on the term “political theater.” Set to the theme of a modern US-style election backdrop, this contemporary retelling of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” offers a new take on a classic text.

“The training and rehearsal process for the show were heavily built on teaching modern theater modes and how to use physicality,” said director Jonathan Rizzardi.

At the head of Bell Tower Theaters, Rizzardi employed his 10 years of teaching experience and held dozens of workshops with the help of college theater students to help the cast into their roles. The actors all learned modern approaches to theater and came to understand how to use the layout of their stage to tell the story.

While the play is light on props and sets, the actors keep up an avant garde style of performance and rely heavily on body language and gesture to fill in the gaps. The cast, pulling largely from Great Mills and Leonardtown high schools, is young and inexperienced, but they all deliver their Elizabethan lines with confidence and passion. There are moments of the play where the audience would be shocked to think these actors are only high-schoolers and the leads shine a convincing light into the world of assassinations and royal betrayal.

Rizzardi produced “Mary Stuart” as part of its second year offering summer theater training. The aim of the production is to foster both acting training and the broader passion for the arts. Many of the actors learned new methods in the course of this year’s production, and most of them had admitted that this play was their first interaction with an Elizabethan text. 

The cast stuck around after opening night for a quick question session. It was evident by their inside jokes and hand signals that, despite their various backgrounds, they had grown to know each other well and meld as a team.The young actors talked about preparation, injuries from rehearsal and the themes of the show. With one of the main themes being that even authoritarian power is constrained by the demands of the public and the dictates of one’s guilty conscience, the cast admitted that part of the reason for the US election motif was to say that even with the current election drama, political deceit is nothing new. 

“The idea originally struck me to set Mary Stuart as a political drama a few years ago,” Said Rizzardi. Rizzardi also noted that many directorial decisions were made from the cast, and some of the imagery decisions to play up the election theme were made only days before. “The opening sequence, transitions and assassination sequence were all formed through the ideas and collective efforts of the actors.”

In the Bell Tower Theater’s second year of production, a talented group of actors and actresses has already formed, and it will be exciting to see them further their talents.

There are limited seats for the production and this small time performance runs for just one weekend. Show times for this performance are Friday, July 29 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 30 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $10. The show runs for about two hours.

All Photos Courtesy of Bell Tower Theaters