Capital T Theatre's Marie Antoinette
David Adjmi's play asks just how accountable the French queen was for all her actions
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., March 11, 2016
Marie Antoinette is a curious animal – the play, the character, and the historical person. Known in textbooks as the selfish, materialistic French queen who lost her head in a revolution, she has returned to our collective awareness in recent years – most notably, the Sofia Coppola film – and also in this script from David Adjmi, produced now by Capital T Theatre.
Indigo Rael plays the queen in this character-driven drama, which evolves from a stylized biographical work into a play of ideas. In the first scene, we see Marie Antoinette a few years into her queenship. She's been in France long enough to adjust to the trauma of having been harshly separated from her native Austria, but she's still barely in her 20s and has yet to bear any children to her husband, the king (Nicholas Mills). As she stands center stage, flanked by her ladies-in-waiting Lamballe (Claire Grasso) and Polignac (Uyen-Anh Dang), she represents an archetype which infuriated the French of the 1700s and seems to hit the American public in that sweet spot between revulsion and fascination. She lacks the intellectual tools to grasp the perilous nature of her situation, but she perceives her funds as limitless and never hears the word "no." That she is a young woman with immense privilege makes her even more of a target, then and now.
As time moves forward and Marie gives birth to the children demanded of her, she takes tiny steps forward in developing a sense of empathy and an intellect. However, events outpace her growth as a person, and she and her family are stripped of their royalty and, soon enough, their lives. The costumes (cleverly designed by Talena Martinez) make this clear enough, with subsequent layers of artifice removed from Marie as the revolution gains ground.
To what extent history should hold Marie Antoinette accountable for her actions becomes the central and most relevant question asked in the production. In this play, she was born a princess in an age when European royalty enjoyed vast wealth at the expense of the people, but what she enjoyed in material riches she was denied in human relationships. Can she bear total responsibility for living an opulent life at the expense of starving masses when she has always lived under the central tenet that this system represents the divine order?
In a sense, this debate – seen here between Marie Antoinette and a talking sheep (Matt Frazier) who appears periodically throughout the narrative – is one that is echoed throughout the contemporary political sphere. To what extent is an individual held accountable for all her actions, and how much do we forgive due to circumstances? It's also a difficult debate to realize fully, when one of the two parties has trouble grasping the depth of her own arc until nearly the end, if at all.
The ensemble here is strong, including several accomplished performers who were new to this reviewer. The production also represents the directorial debut of Rosalind Faires (a Chronicle contributor and daughter of Chronicle Arts editor Robert Faires and Chronicle contributor Barbara Chisholm), who finds a good pace for the story at hand. Leslie Turner's set design assists in conveying the worsening of circumstances, although the technical execution doesn't fulfill the concept's potential.
Marie Antoinette is a thoughtful dissection of a complicated character. The play is not history, and it doesn't try to be. It's a story that presents the opportunity for self-reflection, if only one were fully able.