There is a “minor” character who has a key role in the terrific Mary Stuart production currently at the Folger Theatre. He has only a few moments of visibility. But, I want to call him out with a tip of the hat.
The character is Sir William Davison as played with wonderful precision by Todd Scofield under the charged direction of Richard Clifford. For the few scenes he is visible, Scofield’s Davison could be, perhaps, a doppelganger for a senior staffer who has come face-to-face with a certain kind of management style from, say, a political appointee above him in the food chain. In this case, Queen Elizabeth.
Davison is up against the posture of the Queen with a management style: “I want deniability if things go badly; I want your fingerprints on this.” Add in a soupcon of “don’t bring me any bad news” and season with chattering political factions and poor, cautious Sir William Davison is doomed. And he knows it.
As Davison, Scofield has received the death warrant for Mary Stuart handed to him by Queen Elizabeth (played by Holly Twyford with expressive eyes that darken quickly or a sharp voice inflection that can cut glass). A death warrant is in his hand yet he still asks of the Queen, “What do you want me to do with it?” Things seem not completely clear to him; his feet and mind are clay. Let me paraphrase the words of Queen Elizabeth to him this way; “You sir are a senior representative of ‘the‘ system and you sir should know what the next steps are on your own without a direct order. Yes, you are to deliver the document, but I will not tell you that. You should just know it.” Kinda like knowing what to do when someone says make them “swim with the fishes.”
Alas, poor Davison is not so very well versed in the ways of higher ups, he has not long been in the position. He has zip emotional intelligence. He doesn’t seem to understand the concept of political and decision-making deniability. He doesn’t comprehend the desire for clean hands by Queen Elizabeth.
As Davison, Scofield looks ashen as he asks of no-one, everyone, himself, the Queen, the audience, what to do next. There are no ready answers forthcoming. Behind closed doors, with no one else around but his Queen, Davidson takes the position that he has “no clear instructions” and must have them from Queen Elizabeth so as to what to do next with the death warrant. Scofield clearly projects the heavy weight of responsibility. But he is unwilling to take the initiative as Queen Elizabeth thinks he should. He demands a direct order, but none is coming from his Queen. When he hands the death warrant it is not of his own volition, someone has asked for it. Is Davison relieved? Not on your life or his. He knows bad things are coming his way.
Scofield “sweats” before our eyes, talking to himself about consequences. He mutters something similar to “If I had known what was expected of me, I never would have taken this job.” Scofield as Davison projects the mess he is in with an emotional and physical resonance for the predicament. There are no exits for him. He knows he is going to be a loser, no matter what. And loser he is. As the play concludes, Queen Elizabeth sends him to the Tower. He is her scapegoat for Mary Stuart’s death at the government’s hands. He probably will never will understand why.
I for one couldn’t take my eyes off of Todd Scofield for his acting chops. He made his character far from a dithering old fool, but something else…a very modern man, in well over his head and he knows it.
Running Time: Two and a half hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Mary Stuart plays through March 8, 2015 at Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library—201 East Capitol Street, SE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 544-7077, or purchase them online.
Review of Mary Stuart by Sophia Howes on DCMetroTheaterArts.
The Enlightened World of Folger’s Mary Stuart by Robert Michael Oliver in his column SPINE: Theatre, History & Culture in the Belly of the Beast.