BWW REVIEW: MARIE ANTOINETTE Sheds Light on Royal Pain
Written by David Adjmi; directed by Rebecca Taichman; choreographed by Karole Armitage; scenic design, Riccardo Hernandez; costume design, Gabriel Berry; lighting design, Christopher Akerlind; sound design, Matt Hubbs; puppet design, Matt Acheson; fight choreographer, J. David Brimmer; commissioned and developed by Yale Repertory Theatre
Cast in alphabetical order:
Joseph/Mr.Sauce, Fred Arsenault; Marie Antoinette, Brooke Bloom; Yolande de Polignac/Mrs. Sauce, Hannah Cabell; The Dauphin, Andrew Cekala; Sheep, David Greenspan; Royalist, Vin Knight; Marie’s Coterie, Jo Lampert; Therese de Lamballe, Polly Lee; Louis XVI, Steven Rattazzi; Axel Fersen, Jake Silbermann; Marie’s Coterie, Teale Sperling; Guard, Brian Wiles
Now through September 29, American Repertory Theater, Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge, Mass.; tickets start at $25 and may be purchased online at www.AmericanRepertoryTheater.org or by calling the Box Office at 617-547-8300
“Marie led a decadent and pampered lifestyle, but she was ultimately more clueless than cruel. Her existence was comfortable, controlled, isolated, and carefully managed – until, all of a sudden, it wasn’t anymore.” – Eli Keehn, A.R.T. Guide
When David Adjmi began working on his darkly comic play Marie Antoinette in 2006, the world hadn’t yet spun into the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. The gaping divide between the 1% and the 99% hadn’t become part of America’s consciousness, and the only people occupying Wall Street were investment bankers and Bernie Madoff.
Now Adjmi’s examination of Louis XVI’s infamously self-indulgent and insensitive queen seems almost prescient, drawing parallels between the class warfare that led to the French Revolution and the economic disparities that have polarized the U.S. today. In his own words, Adjmi observes about his play, “It’s pathetically more relevant now than it was when I wrote it.”
Yet, for all its talk of giving the privileged class exemptions while balancing France’s then near-bankrupt economy on the highly taxed backs of the middle class and working poor, Marie Antoinette is first and foremost a satiric look at celebrity worship run amok. Think Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton, teenagers thrust into the limelight long before they were equipped to handle it. Shaped, manipulated, and defined by their handlers, the paparazzi, and the salivating public, they, as Marie, were first adored and then just as intensely excoriated, simply for being what everyone wanted them to be in the first place.
In Marie Antoinette, Adjmi has smartly drawn his hapless heroine as a complex mix of self-centered brat and stifled woman of will. Sent to marry the Dauphin of France at the tender age of 14, the Austrian-born princess was never schooled in mathematics, reading, languages, or diplomacy. Virtually illiterate, she was trained only in the pleasantries of the court. Her role as queen was singular – to entertain as lavishly as possible, even if that meant putting herself quite literally on display for all of Versailles to see.
Is it any wonder, then, that as tensions between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” in 18th century France began to escalate to the point of catastrophe, Marie was equipped to do only what she’d always done: console herself in frivolous diversions and extravagance. Bound to support and acquiesce, at least publicly, to the rule and wishes of her inept king, she became the easy target for the commoners’ hatred. Taunted, gossiped about, and accused of outlandish improprieties in grotesque cartoons and even a derisive “autobiography,” Marie was a prisoner in her own palace long before guards of the National Assembly locked her away as a traitor.
As the misunderstood monarch, Brooke Bloom is a whirling dervish of insecurity wrapped in bravado. She manifests her character’s stifled desires and unexplored potential with every anguished breath she takes. A nervously twitching foot signals the “wildly beating bird” trapped inside of her. A voice filled with tension and disbelief expresses the confused exasperation of a woman who truly does not understand the consequences of her own behavior. Sympathetic but also annoying, Bloom melds innocence and entitlement into an utterly mesmerizing portrayal – one that is as tragically ironic as it is brazenly funny.