If you’re not familiar with the play Mary Stuart, you’re in good company.
“Once I found out,” actress Kate Eastwood Norris says, “it was like something I had been longing for but didn’t even know it.” No doubt you’ll be as shocked by Friedrich Schiller’s Shakespearean play after seeing it as Norris was when she first read the script a year ago.
“It’s a surprising thing for an actress of my age, who’s past the ingénue point, to find something classical and yet so huge and meaty.” It’s also a play whose leads are both women. Norris plays the title character, a Scottish queen imprisoned and ultimately killed by her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, portrayed by Holly Twyford.
In fact, director Richard Clifford secured three of Washington’s best actresses for the Folger Theatre production, recruiting the local theater scene’s grande dame to play Mary’s dutiful assistant. “When I found out that Nancy Robinette was playing the part of my servant,” Norris says, “I just felt like, my job is easier. If she’s busy feeling sorry for me, then I have a feeling the audience will too.”
For the role, Norris is using nearly every technique she’s acquired as a veteran actor, one who performs on stages around the country but considers Folger her classical home and Woolly Mammoth her contemporary home. “There’s no moment in this play where Mary Stuart gets to rest. …We keep using the phrase ‘shooting ourselves out of a cannon,’ because a gun wouldn’t do it. At the top of the show everyone actually has to come out raging or the thing won’t work.”
One thing missing from this fraught role is humor. “I think I have half of a laugh in Mary Stuart,” she says. But at the least she can find humor in her real-life husband, Cody Nickell, who plays the duplicitous Earl of Leicester, paramour to both Mary and Elizabeth. “He’s that guy you can’t tell who he’s in love with,” Norris says, adding, “I’d like to think it’s me.”
Mary Stuart runs to March 8 at the Folger Theatre, 201 East Capitol St. SE. Tickets are $40 to $75. Call 202-544-7077 or visit folger.edu.