The lavish staging is part of the Folger Shakespeare Library and Folger Theatre celebration of the 400th anniversary of the end of Queen Elizabeth I's reign.
Learned is the Broadway, regional and TV actress remembered for starring as mother Olivia Walton in "The Waltons." Opening is set for March 26.
British director and actor Richard Clifford, whose production of She Stoops to Conquer played at the Folger last season, helms the drama.
"This will not be a 'hey nonny-no' production," the director said in production notes. "This is a powerful love story set in the time of a police-state;a harsh world in which one of history's great women of power, Elizabeth I, must reconcile her love for Essex with her love of country. This will be a period piece that reflects the true nature of the times."
The stormy relationship of Elizabeth and Essex is the focus of Maxwell Anderson's 1930 drama. Anderson's plays include Mary of Scotland, Anne of the Thousand Days, Bad Seed, Eve of St. Mark, Joan of Lorraine, Key Largo, Valley Forge, High Tor, Winterset and Knickerbocker Holiday. Anderson won the first New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Winterset in 1935 and again took the award for High Tor in 1936. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Both Your Houses in 1933. Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne starred in the original Broadway production of Elizabeth the Queen.
Classically trained in England, Learned's theatre credits include the lead role of Sara Goode in the Wendy Wasserstein smash Broadway play, The Sisters Rosensweig. Recently she returned to Broadway in Gore Vidal's The Best Man for which she received a nomination for Best Actress by the New York Outer Critics Circle.
Her extensive regional theatre credits include an earlier turn as Queen Elizabeth opposite Marsha Mason's Mary Stuart at The Ahmanson Theatre; a highly acclaimed performance as B, the middle-aged woman, in Edward Albee's Three Tall Women; and numerous roles at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco. She has also toured the country in numerous engagements of A.R. Gurney's Love Letters.
Making their first appearances on the Folger stage are Martin Kildare as Essex and Jeremiah Wiggins as Cecil. The cast includes Washington veterans Ralph Cosham, Rick Foucheux, John Lescault and Gary Sloan, with Ann Bowles, Jessica Cerullo, Elliot Dash, Sam Elmore, Tim Getman, Michael Glenn, Jason Lott and Sam McCready.
Designers are Tony Cisek (set), Brenda Plakans (costumes), Dan Covey (lighting) and Scott Burgess (sound).
Ken Ludwig serves as dramaturg. Ludwig is the Tony award-winning playwright of Lend Me a Tenor, Crazy For You, Moon Over Buffalo, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Sullivan & Gilbert, Postmortem and Divine Fire, Shakespeare in Hollywood (which will open the season at Arena Stage in the fall).
Both the play and an exhibition are part of a Folger-wide celebration of Queen Elizabeth I, March 21-Aug. 2, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the end of her reign.
The Folger collection of items by and about the Tudor monarch is the largest outside Great Britain. Other programming includes a concert, lectures, receptions, special events and family programs, as well as a fully illustrated four-color exhibition catalogue and a related, smaller traveling exhibition, inspired by the Folger exhibition, on view at Washington's Union Station March 27-April 13, and afterward at Christie's in New York. Elizabeth the Queen is produced by Janet Alexander Griffin, Folger Theatre's artistic producer.
Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library is at 201 E. Capitol Street, SE, in Washington, DC. Tickets range $29-$46. For information, call the Folger box office at (202) 544-7077 or visit www.folger.edu.