BWW Review: One Hell of a Good Time at freeFall Theatre's Production of David Adjmi's MARIE ANTOINETTE

BWW Review: One Hell of a Good Time at freeFall Theatre's Production of David Adjmi's MARIE ANTOINETTE

"Let me be your ruler, you can call me Queen B/And baby I'll rule (I'll rule I'll rule I'll rule)/Let me live that fantasy..." --Lorde, "Royals"

I will never again believe Stephen Gosson's 1579 saying, "You can't make a silk purse of a sow's ear." Although I consider the David Adjmi script to MARIE ANTOINETTE to be much better than a theatrical sow's ear, it is far from perfect. Even with its revisionist angle and astute modern-day language, it becomes too talky, sometimes didactic, always in the tell-tell-tell mode instead of the more interesting show-show-show one. If not done right, it runs the risk of becoming a trying-to-be-hip staged history lesson rather than a riveting play.

Thank God for director Eric Davis. If the production had not been given the mighty Eric Davis' Midas Touch, if a company other than the ballsy freeFall had produced it, then MARIE ANTOINETTE might prove hard to endure. But in Davis' hands, he turns it into a bass-thumping rave, a hip hallucinatory trip, a Gaga costume party that you don't want to miss. I've never had so much fun on the road to a beheading. It's such an enjoyable production that I didn't care if Adjmi's script delivered 100% or not; the ornate production turned out to be as fun as an out of control carousel, with moments that left the audience breathless. All it takes for this to happen are amazing performances, an incredible vision, and the best costumes and wigs of the year!

It's been a long time since I've had this much party-hardy fun at a show!

MARIE ANTOINETTE follows the life of the infamous let-them-eat-cake queen from a sort of wigged out Valley Girl of 21 in 1776 all the way through the mob-fueled French Revolution and her ultimate execution in 1793. That makes it sound as dry as a Wikipedia entry, but it's nothing of the sort. It's a funk-infused bacchanalia, with pageant-worthy gowns and Rococo Beehive hairdos (one with a ship tangled it in). And the scene changes to the throbbing, pulsating beat are adorably choreographed.

Megan Therese Rippey succeeds beautifully as the titular Queen of France and Navarre. We see growth in her, from impudent wife of Louis XVI who cannot get pregnant, to a celebrity clouded in tons of eye-popping gossip, and ultimately to her latter days--as a prisoner who knows the end is near. She goes from ornate figurehead at the beginning to doomed inmate. Draped in shards of fabric at the end, she resembles a disoriented Daenerys Targaryen who's lost control of her dragons (or, in this case, sheeple).

Lucas Wells as Louis XVI uses his boyish impertinence to great effect here. Wells, always a stage-shaker with his immense talent (he was extremely memorable in last year's Assassins at freeFall and in Bright Lights, Big City two years ago), once again inhabits his role with gusto and child-like verve. Haulston Mann (great name!) leaves his mark in a variety of roles, including Marie's lover and her executioner, that showcase his range and strapping physique. Stephan Jones, so wonderful in last year's lovely Light in the Piazza, is sturdy and strong in a handful of roles, including Joseph, Marie's Viennese brother (a character who appears in another famous play, Peter Shaffer's Amadeus).

Ariel Reich and Heather Baird perform well with their various parts, although it was sometimes difficult hearing them. And Will Garrabrant does what he needs to do as the ball-tossing Dauphin.

Matthew McGee is in only a handful of scenes, but he's so strong as Marie's "Sheep" that you think he was a lead when you look back on the show. His bleating performance sticks with you, funny and haunting and slightly creepy--like a white-clad Hannibal Lecter donning Wonkavision glasses and gripping a wolf's head cane. He looks amazing, like a pop art masterpiece sprung to life. Big white coat, round white glasses--he's like Ondine meets Swifty Lazar; Otto Preminger in 1970's Elton John glam garb.

Aside from Eric Davis' miraculous direction, the tech in this show is outrageously glorious. The pumping club music, the balletic scene changes, Cody Basham's lighting and video images that swirl over the walls (images of wolves, words, French paintings, sheep, fists on fire, butterflies, and the eye of a horse) add to the overall effect. It's overwhelming, heart pounding, one of the few recent shows where we don't want the party to end (especially if it ends with a guillotine).

Best of all are David Covach's costumes and Parker Lawhorne's wigs. It's as if one of my favorite Ybor City stores--La France--had come to life before my eyes. Late Baroque New Wave, complete with a cake crown on Marie's head and a t-shirt that reads, "Keep Calm & Eat Cake." The Executioner, strapped in black leather, looks like a Go-Go Boy of Death. And all of the wigs--including one bright red one that resembles an oversized Cap'n Crunch Crunchberry--are giggly great. Imagine Annie Potts' Iona in Pretty in Pink becoming an Aristocrat, or the B-52's as French royalty. These aren't mere costumes and wigs; these are works of art, like playfully poppy remakes of Fragonard paintings.

But it all comes back to Eric Davis. He has guided one hell of a good time. You'll learn some things about MARIE ANTOINETTE that you may not have known before and then try to equate them to our modern political reality. But more importantly, you'll have the time of your life with this silk purse of a production. If only high school history classes could be like this!

MARIE ANTOINETTE at freeFall Theatre runs through August 13th. For tickets, please call (727) 498-5205.


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