Just posted, Julie Rattey reviews "Marie Antoinette," a new play by David Adjmi, which is playing at the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven:
Absurdly tall wigs held aloft by stage wires. A talking sheep. An 18th-century queen who speaks like a modern-day valley girl. Acclaimed playwright David Adjmi’s “Marie Antoinette” is no typical look at the guillotined French royal.
The modern sensibility and rich themes of Adjmi’s brisk and lively script, the larger-than-life mise-en-scène and the play’s farcical and absurdist elements could create an inventive and moving production. As directed by Rebecca Taichman in this co-production between Yale Repertory Theatre and the American Repertory Theater, the production achieves many powerful moments, though it has a little ways to go to reach its full potential.
The play, which moves from Marie’s pampered days at Versailles to her final ones in prison in 1793, is a challenge to perform. It is a tragicomedy with elements of farce, a reality-show romp that descends into darkness. It is a testament to everyone involved that, for the most part, the production succeeds at both. In portraying Marie as a clueless teenage celebutante (the real-life Marie was poorly educated and only 14 when she married the French king), Marin Ireland demonstrates endless energy and the skill to portray both vapidity and raw, affecting emotion. As Marie’s husband, King Louis XVI, Steven Rattazzi pulls off a moving transformation from dithering to dignified. The superb design team has created striking images and effects—including a magnificent display of glittering palace excess and, by contrast, a very effective use of stage dirt—that establish place and character, advance plot and underscore themes like artifice, consumption and excess.
There are obvious parallels here to 21st-century consumer society and its role in our economic crisis, as well as today’s voracious, often vicious celebrity culture. The play is surprisingly timely given that it was written in 2006. Adjmi has said he had George W. Bush on the brain while writing, but there are clearer connections to the Occupy Wall Street movement.