If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Yale Premieres an Opulent “Marie Antoinette”


You’ve only got this weekend to catch “Marie Antoinette”, the thrillingly good new play currently making its world premiere at the Yale Repertory Theatre. David Adjmi’s startling take on the frivolous queen only plays through November 17 in New Haven before it moves to the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University. Could Broadway be next?

 

Anchored by the superior, central performance of Marin Ireland as Marie and supported by a team of Yale’s best visual artists, “Marie Antoinette” is a jolt to the solar plexus and a dazzling work of theatricality. Adjmi’s daring script attempts to humanize the shallow Marie by showing us a young woman who, in her words, “wasn’t raised, but built”. Married to Louis XVI (a marvelous Steven Rattazzi) at 14, the uneducated Marie embraced the upper-crust with a passion. She simply knew no other life. All parallels to the current 1% controversy work beautifully even though the play was written several years ago.

 

In a bravura opening sequence, we find Marie in an opulent tiered gown sitting under mile-high hair with two similarly-garbed girlfriends. A line of servants stand rigidly upstage as gilded carts of gorgeously designed sweets sit waiting for the vultures to devour. A cross between Paris Hilton visiting the Jersey Shore by way of the San Fernando Valley, Ireland is a hoot as Marie perfectly playing with Adjmi’s deliciously contemporary dialogue. Her girlfriends follow suit but uncomfortable questions often stop their mindless chatter as Marie considers the negative publicity that seems to be growing against her. The silences here, directed perfectly by Rebecca Taichman, speak volumes.

 

What really works in “Marie Antoinette”, however, is watching the caricature that grows into a woman who soon develops -- if not a conscience -- then at least some critical thinking. It’s a tricky arc to play and Ms. Ireland is breathtaking in making the transition work seamlessly. She gets some solid support. In addition to Mr. Rattazzi’s clueless Louis XVI, the wonderful cast also includes David Greenspan as a talking sheep (yes, you read that right!), Jake Silbermann as Marie’s handsome suitor and Fred Arsenault as her exasperated brother. The ensemble at Yale is also invaluable in helping to bridge the many scenes with ease and ingenuity.

 

The technical aspects at Yale are always of the highest quality but they may have topped even their own high standards this time around. Riccardo Hernandez’s ever-changing scenic design makes room for a coup de theatre at the end of the first act that truly has to be seen to be believed. Matt Hubbs’ powerful sound and Christopher Akerlind’s lighting work in tandem almost magically and Gabriel Berry’s merely fabulous costumes just might make your jaw drop. “Marie Antoinette” is really something to see. In more ways than one.

 

“Marie Antoinette” continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre through November 17. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.432.1234 or visit: www.yalerep.org.

 

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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