Monday, October 21, 2013

Marie Antoinette

David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette, directed by Rebecca Taichman, finds itself hip, snarky, insightful, and significant, but it's merely an olio of unoriginal ideas tossed together with a dash of attitude, a talking sheep, and cartoon characters. The main weakness of the play is Marie herself, who is presented variously as a victim but powerful, stupid but smart, and unloving yet loving--and whose evolution from two-dimensional mean girl to tragic figure is wholly unconvincing.  
Marin Ireland
Photo: Pavel Antonov
Just as Marie doesn't quite gel, neither does the play itself. There are some genuinely moving moments and some funny ones, but they don't add up. The play is by turns fey, overly dramatic, cutesy, and serious. When it tries at the end to elicit our sympathy, neither the play nor Marie has earned it.  

Perhaps Marie Antoinette is better understood as a riff than a play: "Here is what David Adjmi thinks about Marie Antoinette," it seems to say, "plus a few cheap jokes." (E.g., when someone tells Marie that she doesn't feed her children sweets, Marie answers, "O let them eat cake.")

Marin Ireland's fascinating portrayal of Marie does much to cover the play's weaknesses and maintain audience interest. She has a contemporary edge that makes her a seemingly odd choice for the role, but her determination, humor, and intelligence give life and occasional depth to each of the versions of Marie on display.

The stage at the Soho Rep is backed by a long white wall with the words Marie Antoinette, also in white, running its length. Perhaps this tabula rasa is an invitation to the audience to write its own version of Marie, which is ultimately all any of us can do.

(first row center; press ticket)

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