Karl Hugh
Leslie Brott, left, as Hanna Kennedy and Jacqueline Antaramian as Mary Stuart.

"MARY STUART," Utah Shakespeare Festival, through Sept. 1, dates and times vary; 435-586-7878 or www.bard.org

CEDAR CITY — We could refer to this production as "the play that no one knows," and I would add, "but you should." Shakespeare did not write it, but actually lived the storyline. The subject was much too explosive to have written about in the 16th century.

Friedrich Schiller, a German playwright, first put the compelling, inside look at intrigue at the English court on stage in 1800.

The Utah Shakespeare Festival has produced a new version by Peter Oswald.

Most people are familiar with the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots. Her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, signed that death warrant. Most of the play's action leads us to that point. We are introduced to Mary, imprisoned in England, and learn of those who believe in her claim to the throne.

They beg her through correspondence and spies to hold onto the idea of rescue. Meanwhile, Elizabeth's closest advisers beg her to recognize the treason and agree to end Mary's life.

In life, Elizabeth and Mary never met, but on stage this summer, they do, and it is explosive. They position themselves, they circle, they strike with words and we cannot wait to see who has the next move. They are enemies and yet — at one point in their meeting, when not engrossed in a verbal battle, Mary firmly states, "Fate is to blame, not you or I."

What is fascinating to watch is how deep the intrigue is so close to the throne and how multi-layered the plots. Which faith, which woman, who controls what? And that is true to how these two queens lived for nearly two decades. The story paints images of power and betrayal.

And the acting is so strong that audience members are able to forget that they know the outcome. I lost myself in the performances that only the talents of Monica Bell as Elizabeth and Jacqueline Antaramian as Mary could deliver. They are stunning actors, and costume designer Bill Black makes sure you never take your eyes off either of them.

Martin Kildare delivers a wonderful performance as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the man who loves them both, calling it "this monstrous dilemma," and indeed it is. What would you do to save your own skin?

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Dan Kremer as William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, possesses a commanding presence. And three men bring heartbreak to their scenes. Michael A. Harding as William Davison, the secretary of state, beautifully plays a man most torn. A. Bryan Humphrey as Amias Paulet, Mary's guardian, is a truly believable man of honor, and Steve Wojtas, as Mortimer, Paulet's nephew, makes you smile and weep as the one who will die for love and his cause.

Even at the end, we might ask, who really won?

Many thanks to director Kate Buckley, whose skills wove a wonderful piece of theater. It took 40 years of planning and just the right cast to bring this play to the festival. Do not miss it.

Email: cmikita@desnews.com