Tuesday, April 26, 2016

MARIE ANTOINETTE--history with a modern twist and possible relevance @ Dobama

The subject of David Adjmi’s play, MARIE ANTOINETTE, was a delicate beauty, with gray-blue eyes and ash-blond hair, who following the Seven Years War, was used by her scheming mother, Empress Maria Theresa, to cement an alliance between Austria and France by arranging a marriage to Louis-Auguste.

Louis-Auguste, the 11 year-old grandson of French monarch, Louis XV, became the future king when Louis Ferdinand, the son of the French monarch, died.  Within a month, Marie Antoinette and the future Louis XVI, were pledged to marry.

The 14 year-old queen-apparent set out for France escorted by 57 carriages, 117 footmen and 376 horses.  She was well dressed and coifed, but intellectually and emotionally ill-equipped to be a monarch.

When Louis-Auguste became king before his 20th birthday, he attempted to abolish serfdom, remove some taxes, and increase tolerance toward non-Catholics.  The aristocracy opposed the implementations.  Bad harvests, and increases in food prices and staple shortages added to his woes.  Decisions had to be made.  Louis, the boyish King more interested in clothing, style and fixing clocks than in ruling, was unequipped to make decisions and became a victim of his own indecisiveness and lack of political skills.

Marie, at first, was extremely popular.  She became, like the present day Kardashians or Britney Spears, the confection of common gossip, constantly in the eye of the public.  She complained of being in the spotlight, but relished it. 

It is rumored that Marie put drops of belladonna in her eyes to dilate her pupils, thus creating an effect considered attractive and seductive.  Due to overuse, she and the female members of her court, developed poor eyesight.  (A parallel to the present day use of Botox and plastic surgery, which often have dilatory effects on users.)

Her popularity waned as the fervor for revolution festered.  Her once admired looks became negatives as her excesses in spending on clothing, and her doing little other than gossiping with her ladies-in-waiting, fermented the battle cries against the regime.  The proof of her attitudes was her being credited with the oft-repeated, “let them eat cake,” a line symbolizing arrogance and ignorance for the plight of the common people.  A statement, by-the-way, there is no historical proof she ever said.  (Which didn’t stop Adjmi from including the bon mot in his script.)

For a long time after their marriage, the couple did not produce children, causing gossip.  Pamphlets mocked the fertility of the couple, asking “Can the King do it?”  There were also strong questions over Marie’s dislike of “conjugal activity.” Eventually, Marie became pregnant, but questions continued about whether the King was, in fact, the father, especially because of the queen’s closeness to Axel Fersen. (Ah, fodder for the likes of “The National Enquirer” or “People Magazine.”)

The cries of "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!" became louder and the handwriting for the fall and executions of Louis and Marie became inevitable.

The play has underpinnings of a modern day story.  Marie’s preoccupation with gossip and avoiding confronting the “real” issues parallels the 21st century youth obsession with Facebook, Twitter and similar escapist electronic sites which concentrate on self and gossip, rather than pressing matters of society. 

Is Marie a parallel to the teenage heroine of the movie, “Clueless,” using Valley Girl expressions to escape from reality?  Is Marie like the people who drive while texting, or are so absorbed on their smart phones that they are oblivious what is going on around them?

Dobama’s production of MARIE ANTOINETTE, under the focused direction of Nathan Motta, is often compelling.  Using fascinating projections designed by Mike Tuta and executed by Jeremy Dobbins, impressive lighting effects conceived by Marcus Dana, and appropriate musical highlights and interludes selected by Richard Ingraham, there is intense sensory stimulus.

Tesia Dugan Benson’s mod shabby-chic costumes, especially those worn by Carly Germany (Marie Antoinette), hark to the images of old, while creating the illusion of mod.

The acting is excellent.  Starting in a stylistic, often farcical mode, paralleling to the mood and manners of the story, the acting transitions into realism as the play progresses and real issues are confronted.

Carly Germany textures well her portrayal as Marie.  The childish, unrealistic, gossiping escapist youngster transitions into a desperate woman facing the reality of her execution.  This is an impressive exercise in character development.

Dan Hendrock creates a Louis XVI who is childlike and childish in his shallow attempts to govern and to be a husband and father.  Whether this is a true picture of the king (remember, this is a dramatic version of history not an accurate depiction), it parallels the role as conceived by the author and director.  The king’s obsessions and vulnerabilities are clearly displayed.

Joe Pine, sensually garbed in an un-buttoned tunic, is appealing as Axel Fersen, who Marie Antoinette once described as, “an old acquaintance.”  The relationship between Fersen and the queen was not well fleshed out by the author, but Pine gives clear physical and vocal cues that there may well have been something beyond talks between the two.

The rest of the cast:  Ryan Zarecki, Abraham Adams, Rachel Lee Kolis, Easton Sumlin, Robert Hunter and Lara Mielcarek all effectively develop their roles.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: MARIE ANTOINETTE tells the tale of a king and queen who are totally unsuited for their roles and the part they seemingly played in inciting the French Revolution.  The author’s adaptation of the dialogue to include modern language and idioms opens the door to drawing a parallel between that period and today, for those interested in probing beyond the historical story.  The production is well done and makes for good theater.

MARIE ANTOINETTE runs through May 22, 2016 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or http://www.dobama.org for tickets.