"Marie Antoinette" -- Yale Repertory Theatre

--Irene Backalenick

The first, and most striking, aspect of “Marie Antoinette” is its visual effect. (The drama by David Adjmi is now enjoying its “world premiere” at the Yale Repertory Theatre, a co-production with the American Repertory Theater.) The curtain rises on a tableau, with the queen and her two ladies-in-waiting attired in billowing bejeweled gowns and sky-high wigs. They are surrounded by servants dressed in black, about to pour tea and serve pastries. All are frozen in position, caught in time, like a dazzling wall painting.

 

While one is left gasping from this visual treat, the story begins. Marie and her ladies exchange banalities, delivered in modern lingo. Marie (as we recall from history) first appears on the world scene as young, frivolous, unlettered and extravagant. (In real life she was only 14 when her mother, the Empress Maria Teresa of Austria, having arranged Marie’s marriage to the French Dauphin and future Louis XVI, shipped her off to France.) Playwright Adjmi moves Marie through her subsequent stages -- from childishness to maturity, from ignorance to awareness, from luxury to destitution. Both Marie and the world around her steadily grow and steadily deteriorate.

 

But the dialogue throughout is dull -- at best, merely serviceable -- never inspiring the viewer to become involved with the characters or moved by the language. Moreover, Marie makes literary and philosophical observations of which she would not have been capable. On the plus side, Adjmi is true to Marie’s history, and has done his homework, offering characters straight are out of the history books. And his use of whimsy is charming (the sheep that appears in Marie’s imagination), but does nothing to empower the tale. In short, this famous tragedy deserves better, stronger treatment.

 

The performances are generally adequate, although Marin Ireland, in the title role, garbles her lines at top speed, doing a disservice to the playwright (and the audience). But Steven Rattazi is outstanding, giving a hilarious -- and very human-- -- performance as Louis XVI. His boy King is childish, petulant, out of touch with the world. That Ireland towers over Rattazi, when the two battle, adds to the comic visual effect.

 

So much for dialogue and performances. But the star of this production is, without a doubt, the design team. Riccardo Hernandez’ dazzling set, the glorious costumes of Gabriel Berry, and Christopher Akerlind’s faultless lighting, all come together under the direction of Rebecca Taichman. For these reasons alone, the trip to New Haven is worth the effort.

 

This review also appears in nytheaterscene.com

 

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