By Claire DeMarco, ‘Burgh Vivant
Everybody knows something about Marie Antoinette. There are two events, though, that first come to mind when her name is mentioned: her beheading and her comment concerning the masses “Let them eat cake” – a quote that has never been validated, by the way. Playwright David Adjmi takes Marie’s story and gives it a contemporary twist in “Marie Antoinette”.
We follow Marie (Alexis Primus) as she adapts to life at the French court and witnesses all the problems and events she and Louis XVI (Adam Nie) faced. Why did it take eight years for them to have a child? Did they have an up and down relationship? Why were they so out of touch with the dire economic conditions in France and the feelings of the French people? Why did Marie continue her extravagant excesses even when confronted with the people’s plight?
Marie is attended at court by Yolande De Polignac (Kayla Bradley) and Therese De Lamballe (Temperance Moore), her ladies-in-waiting who reinforce her frivolous behavior. They all act like schoolgirls dressed in the latest fashions, adorned with jewels, successfully balancing their wigs as they dance and prance around, oblivious to what’s happening on the Parisian streets. Semi-modern costumes (knee high dresses), rock music, today’s lingo is incorporated into this piece, along with the traditional trappings of 18th century France (huge wigs, big hooped dresses). Marie sports blue lipstick – perhaps because she’s a blue blood?
The backdrop for all this action takes place on a simplistic platform with few props, allowing the players to constantly move around the stage.
Joseph (Langston Reese), Marie’s older brother, is sent to France by their mother to find out why she and Louis XVI don’t have any children yet. Alex Fersen (Marco Lucero) becomes Marie’s loyal friend and possible-but-not-proven lover.
A Sheep (Meg McGill) is the play’s symbolic character that acts as Marie’s harbinger, signaling that the populace is angry about her endless spending while they are suffering. Gossip is rampant and her personal reputation is also tarnished. Rumors spread that she’s engaged in a lesbian affair. Some think she’s a prostitute. Unfortunately, Marie didn’t listen to any warning signs. “Who will draw my bath?” was one of the last lines she uttered in prison. She never “got it.”
“Marie Antoinette” is a contemporary version of an historical figure’s fate. Director Le’Mil Eiland explains it best: “This play and our production is a meditation on excess.”
Primus captures the wide range of Marie’s emotions and attitude. She is at times naïve, self-absorbed, fun-loving, unthinking, belligerent and hysterical.
Nie develops Louis XVI from an indecisive, shy monarch who first appears in pajamas while playing with clocks to someone more forceful (and more appropriately dressed as a king) as his character progresses.
McGill is clever and subtly funny as the meandering sheep.
Note: Because of the constant movement on stage as the actors move from one side of the stage to the other with their backs to parts of the audience, dialogue is sometimes muffled.
“Marie Antoinette” is produced by the University of Pittsburgh and runs until February 25th at the Cathedral of Learning, Richard E. Rauh Studio Theatre, 4200 Fifth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. For more information, go here.