Before looking at the details of the production, I was intrigued by the subject matter. Marie Antoinette is rife with history and controversy when looking at both political and cultural issues. The play highlights the role of a woman in a characteristically male world. Arguably, it is her who has claimed the spotlight of history, surpassing any of her male counterparts in notoriety. I also admire the work of the RC Players in putting a female story on the stage, with an all-female production crew.
Before attending this performance, the production of this play had me concerned. Marie Antoinette has become synonymous with opulence, luxury, and material excess, yet the RC Players’ performances are often stripped down to the essentials when it comes to sets and costuming. According to the program, the show was put together in three weeks, a feat even for a minimalistic play. Despite the time crunch, the show was filled with costume changes and a shifting set that worked to illustrate the frivolity of Marie Antoinette’s world.
My absolute favorite part, hitting me right as the play began, was the play’s “soundtrack”. I’d recommend reading this article with ABBA’s “Head Over Heels” playing in the background, which – following in the guise of Marie Antoinette – I’ve claimed as my new life accompaniment. The play transitioned to the sounds of 60s/70s pop and soul music, including Nancy Sinatra and The Ronettes, as well as featuring the songs of Edith Piaf (can anything art form covering French subjects really leave her out?).
The play looks at the artifice and self-involvement of the French court during the reign of Marie Antoinette. The dialogue was held in an octave above comfort, saturated with pompousness and narcissism only too available when detailing 18th century French court. I tried to allot some sympathy for the plight of the subjects, and many-a-time I came close, only to have it dashed to pieces by a childish and shallow comment. As David Adjmi’s play looks at history through a contemporary lens, it became necessary to contemplate today’s society. Adjmi’s representation of Marie Antoinette was not as a political figure, but a candy-coated, diamond-encrusted celebrity that could easily fit into today’s mold. Really, even today, are these two roles explicitly different anymore? I found myself looking to the servants on the sidelines of the play; non-speaking roles, yet I could identify with their silence the most. Forced to serve the whims of the aristocratic, the subtle eye rolling served to give me some grounding among an otherwise shallow cast-of-characters. Even as the tears of Marie Antoinette, as she stood at the guillotine, were echoing off the stage I couldn’t completely align myself with her. This, though, is the legacy of Marie Antoinette. History both feels for her and detests her. She has become wrought with much more nuance and controversy, both positive and negative, than other casualty of the French Revolution.