THE QUEEN'S PROJECT, Local Infinities and Raging Papist, at the Lunar Cabaret. The rivalry for the English throne between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots has probably never before been given the postmodern design Charlie Levin gives it in The Queen's Project. Inspired by Friedrich Schiller's Mary Stuart and the tragic fact that the two sisters never met, although their conflict produced minor wars, assassination plots, and Mary's much dramatized beheading, this history piece seems as rigorous and detailed (and sometimes as long-winded) as any docudrama. Yet the two queens inhabit a world of cold steel and raw pine blocks; perched on stilts, they scratch out decrees with a large nail on bits of metal.
The set and plain costumes effectively reduce the characters' world to a geometric structure of metal and wood; the two queens seem victims trapped in a sharp-edged, untrustworthy machine. Emphasizing its dangers are the production's formal language and dignified, courtly postures, stripping the story down to the political relationship between the women and their courts and eliminating the seductive lushness of ornate costumes and Elizabethan pageantry. Elizabeth's legendary virginity and Mary's search for power through her husbands--drawn in almost obsessive detail but visually detached from the women's histories--are essentially case studies of the different strategies women use for protection and influence. An intellectually satisfying, oddly unemotional experience, The Queen's Project is an admirable experiment that achieves a surprising, strange, and abstract grace.