Mary Stuart, also known as Mary Queen of Scots, was made Queen of Scotland nine months after she was born. But her life was far from leisurely. She was imprisoned for more than 18 years, and her second husband was murdered. And then of course, there was her battle for the throne of England with Queen Elizabeth I, which became the basis for a popular and thrilling play nearly 200 years later.
Mary Stuart, the last show of the season for TheatreWorks, was written in 1800 by German playwright Friedrich Schiller, with a modern translation by Peter Oswald.
"Basically, it's two strong arguments about who should be in power," says Jane Fromme, a Colorado Springs theater veteran who plays Queen Elizabeth. "But it also has the human factors: the frailties of sanity, of deception, of greed, all of those traits that we don't like to admit that we all have."
Schiller did take some poetic license, says Fromme. For example, although they meet in the play, Queen Elizabeth and Mary Stuart never did in real life. Elizabeth instead had Mary thrown in prison for her involvement in plots to assassinate her.
Both Fromme and Claire Warden, a British actress currently living in New York who plays the title role, claim that their characters have to carry the label of villain. Mary's scorned for her sometimes-questionable efforts to obtain the English crown, and Elizabeth for the harsh punishments she dealt Mary.
And interestingly, both actresses vouch for the more human side of their characters. For instance, Fromme says Elizabeth was "just justified" in the actions she took to protect her title. Her right to rule, Fromme points out, was constantly questioned because she was the child of the second marriage of King Henry VIII. In fact, there were numerous plots against her life, three of which are mentioned in the play.
With the tension and dramatics of Mary Stuart, Fromme and Warden say acting in it is a dream. Warden calls the characters "powerhouse roles," while Fromme asks, "Who wouldn't want to play a queen?"
The actresses also have infinite words of praise for the play itself.
"It's bold and it's fast," says Warden. "I like the mix of classic and contemporary language, the change back and forth from classic and contemporary prose."
When TheatreWorks artistic director Murray Ross flew to New York to hold auditions, Warden was waiting, eager to land the role she's always wanted to play.
"I don't think I was what he was expecting," says Warden, "but I think he saw my passion and understanding of the role.
"She's a real lioness. She's a caged lioness, trying to right a deep mess of a life. She has enormous love and she has enormous fury and an enormous sense of justice. She's badass."