Women, power, and redemption: The Passion of Mary

Original Oil: Shana D Wilson

The Passion of Mary
Sept. 6 – 16; preview Sept. 5
The Roxy Theatre 10708 – 124 street

The thing about history is that it’s a story. History isn’t just a series of events that happened, ended, and are no longer relevant. A lot of the time, we don’t see the characters behind the events. But that’s what  The Passion of Mary does for Mary, Queen of Scots. Annette Loiselle, the playwright who also plays Mary, says,”It’s making them real human beings, these historical figures.”

Annette’s fascination with Mary is contagious – in our conversation about The Passion of Mary, she gives me an abridged version of Mary’s colourful, but short, life. While Mary’s story is interesting, we often don’t hear much about it – instead, thinking of Mary Magdalene or Mary Tudor (aka “Bloody Mary”) when we think about history’s famous “Mary”s. For Annette however, Mary’s story has woven in and out of her own life since she was 26.

“I became fascinated with Mary a long time ago. I was traveling  and I was, funny enough, the same age Mary was when she was first imprisoned. So, I was 26 years old – young and free. I went to France to learn French and traveled through Europe and, when I went to Scotland, I was doing the usual things that you see when you’re in Edinburgh and I went to Holyrood Castle. First of all, I was in the room where the Rizzio murder took place and it was overpowering, just the feel in that room. Then, reading about her history I thought, “wow!” Not that I hadn’t ever heard of her, but I had never really explored [her history]. Part of it is, these historical people that you hear about, they just seem so far away. They don’t seem like real people.”

“So, it was seeing her as a real woman who had lead this incredibly full life – she was Queen of France at the age of 16. And then her husband died a a year-and-a-half or two years later and she becomes the Queen of Scotland at 18 years old. And then, at the age of 26, she’s in prison for 18 years, and that’s it, her life is over. And I just kept going, “how do you spend 18 years – not solitary – but not being able to go beyond the castle walls, except for the odd ride or walk?”

“Then the next time I was traveling… I came across Antonia Fraser’s biography of Mary… To me, she captured the essence of who [Mary] was. As a biographer, she’s impeccable with her facts, but she takes the facts and makes her own opinion. She puts it all out there and then says, “I think it was this, or that,” and I agreeed with her version. She was very pro-Mary. There are a lot of people who think Mary was a whore – she had an affair and therefore, killed her husband. So, then I kind of started to write her story on that trip. I got about as far as the opening monologue. And then, I started having kids, and nothing happened, I didn’t write… the next huge trip we did was going to Africa in 2010 and I had time then to sit and write… When you travel, everything’s open. Your senses are so full, and there’s great inspiration for writing. So, that’s when I finally put it all on paper and kind of just got it all out.”

The Passion of Mary takes place the night before Mary, Queen of Scots’ execution. As Annette said, Mary’s life outside of prison was full. And at the end of a life that was full up until her imprisonment, what would a devote Catholic do? Ask for redemption. Throughout the play, Mary examines the things she’s done asks for forgiveness for her sins – sometimes from God, sometimes from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth (who had her imprisoned and eventually ordered her execution on the grounds of treason). But, as Annette says, “at the very end, she realizes it’s herself. She needs to forgive herself.”

The characters are really what make The Passion of Mary such a compelling story. Annette says, “the objective of writing it was to tell the story of a woman, a strong woman, who maybe made bad choices, but ultimately … they didn’t make her a bad woman. She was making choices – I’m talking from the perspective of my play – for love. And you can’t regret a choice for love.”

Compelling characters and story aside though, another reason Annette feels this play is important to Edmonton’s theatre scene is that it’s a story about women, told by women. “When I was applying for grants, I had to think “why, why should anyone care about this?” In one of my grants, I actually compared it to Allison Redford’s campaign, because it was happening at that time. One of the things they said was that she had Stephen Carter who basically got all the soccer moms and the sandwich generation and women [in general] on board with her. And I went, you know what, that’s a strong force… There’s a lot of women out there who are really passionate and who … love to be involved in their children’s lives, but need something in their own lives, and don’t go to the theatre often because they can’t afford it , or they don’t have time, but I think part of it is we’re not seeing enough women’s stories on stage… When women are directing, they’re picking plays… that speak to [them]. So, if I’m a guy… as a man, I would never pick The Passion of Mary, because it speaks to women, not men. Which is fine, but to me, our audiences are suffering because of that. You look at audiences, I bet they’re 80% women… and yet, they’re seeing the men’s stories, not the women’s stories. So, I think there are women out there who are hungry to see their own stories.”

The Passion of Mary runs Sept. 6 – 16. Preview night is September 5. Evening performances are at 8:00 pm. Matinees are September 9 and 16 at 2:00 pm. Tickets range from $13 – $26, depending on the date and time of performance. Check out the performance schedule on YEGLive.ca!

20% of the proceeds of the September 8 show will go to help fundraise for SkirtsAFire Festival – a new arts festival running March 7 – 10, 2013.

– Jenna Marynowski

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