'Marie Antoinette' at Yale Rep Visually Stunning, Politically Pointed
By FRANK RIZZO
The show: World premiere of “Marie Antoinette” at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven
First impressions: David Adjmi's surreal look at the madness of politics, power and celebrity gets a wild and wooly (as in sheep) dream of a production with Marin Ireland giving a hysterically funny, fierce and even touching performance as the original material girl. Visually stunning, comically inspired and politically pointed, it's one of the most theatrically invigorating shows I've seen in ages.
Does she say“Let them eat cake?” Yes, getting it out of the way early as a throwaway and not in a context that you might expect. (She never said that phrase anyway.) It just demonstrates Adjmi’s wickedly clever approach to the biography and history, playing with it or tossing it aside to deal with the themes that interest him.
It’s not just the peasants who are revolting. The French monarchy is out of control, too: oblivious, callous and removed from reality and Marie is at the center of it all as poster girl for all things wrong with the super-rich.
Adjmi paints her with many colors that allows the Tony Award-nominated (“Reasons to Be Pretty”) Ireland, a grad of the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, to do a virtuosic turn. Of course she plays her to the gilt hilt but also shows Marie’s longing, resiliency, independence, madness and confusion that makes her, if not sympathetic, at least more understandable as a product of her special breeding. “I feel so misunderstood,” she says of her sui generis status.
What’s the story about?: Adjmi picks up story of Marie and Louis XVI in 1776, seven years after their arranged marriage (she was a royal Austrian sent to be wed at 14). She’s a big shopper and a fashion plate who both wallows in fame and is repelled by it. A handsome nobleman (Jake Silberman) with whom she flits and flirts refers to her “a butterfly with opalescent wings.”
Meanwhile King Louis (a terrific Steven Rattazzi) is a stunted man-child, unable to make any decisions, much less rule, who is more interested in tinkering with his clocks than extending his royal line. But trouble’s a-coming and when their over-the-top reign collapses (demonstrated in a stunning coup de theatre). The play takes a darker turn, while still being true to Adjmi’s voice and vision.
That vision is supported brilliantly by Rebecca Taichman, who staged Adjmi’s provocative “The Evildoers” when it premiered at the Rep several seasons ago) The tone is set in the first “gossip girl” scene with Marie and a pair of pampered aristocrats, all wearing three-foot-tall wigs (and the fantastic costumes by Gabriel Berry are just as extravagantly loopy and fitting). Riccardo Hernandez creates settings of magnificent splendor and darkness with just a few bold strokes of suggestion and effects. Extra credit for Chistopher Akerlind’s pitch-perfect lighting and Matt Hubbs’ soundscape that takes us in and out of Adjmi’s worlds.
And of course there’s the talking sheep, too.
The what? The talking sheep, played with haunting effectiveness by the mesmerizing David Greenspan. Marie conjures the creature who first comforts her, then warns her, then finally tells her to wake up from her dream world. But in the end, it’s all too late, though in the play’s -- and Marie’s -- final moments, she at last finds her true calling.
Who will like it? The 99 percent. Those who like big theatricality in their shows.
Who won’? Royalists. Some Republicans. Persnickety historians.