BOTTOM LINE: 10 men, 2 women, 12 pairs of balls: Mary Stuart is a brilliant play about two of the most powerful women in history.

I did not expect to love Mary Stuart. Historical dramas are normally not my thing. But there is something fantastically enthralling about this story which takes place in that ever-contentious 16th century England. And the production itself is of such a fine quality that I am truly impressed by what I saw.

Mary Stuart, the flawless transplant from London’s West End, chronicles the relationship between cousins Mary, Queen of Scots, and Queen Elizabeth I of England. If you’ve ever seen or read anything about this time period, you’re already aware that these royal families were at best power-hungry and at worst bat-shit crazy (perhaps an outcome of royal inbreeding). At this particular point in time, religious tension is high as England is newly Protestant and Scotland has just seen a Protestant coup. The Catholics are planning an uprising to reclaim their religious rule and since Mary is still a devout Catholic, she is seen as an enemy to Protestant Elizabeth (and the rest of England). Mary is in England after being exiled from her homeland. She still has some right to the English throne (at least as much as her cousin) and she is kept in captivity because of the threat she poses to Elizabeth’s reign.

I know this subject matter is little dull and to be honest, Act I involves a lot of dry exposition and tedious dialogue to set up where we are in history. Mary Stuart was written in 1800 by Friedrich Schiller and even though the current adaptation by Peter Oswald is fresh and snappy, the historic facts do drag, especially in the beginning of play. But there is a massive pay-off later on and Act II is full of action, wit and twists. Trust me, it’s worth it.  If the Bravo channel existed in the mid 1500’s, these families would surely have had their own reality show.

After a critically acclaimed run in England (this play opened in 2005), Mary Stuart comes to Broadway with the same cast and energy. The strength of the production mimics the strength of the central characters, played brilliantly by Janet McTeer (Mary) and Harriet Walter (Elizabeth). The American theatre community seems to be impressed since the play is up for seven Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance By A Leading Actress (both McTeer and Walter), Best Director (Phyllida Lloyd), Best Costume Design, Best Lighting Design and Best Sound Designer. This paints a pretty clear picture of the high production value Mary Stuart offers.

If you are already a fan of this time period or if you appreciate a well-crafted drama, you should certainly see Mary Stuart. I found the story to be engaging and the performances riveting and I’m not normally inclined to this sort of production. If you enjoy your theatre as escapist fun, though, there might be better options; Mary Stuart requires a little work from the audience to digest the material.

Mary Stuart plays at the Broadhurst Theatre, 235 West 44th Street. Performances are Tuesday at 7pm, Thursday & Friday at 8pm, Wednesday & Saturday at 2pm & 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. The show runs 2 hrs. 45 min. with one 15 min. intermission. Tickets are $64.00–$116.50. Student Rush: $29.50, available at the box office on the day of the performancee, limit 2 per valid ID. For tickets go to theatermania.com. Check out theatreiseasy.com for more New York theatre reviews and information.