The play opens and we find Marie (Marin Ireland) sitting, facing the audience, with friends Yolande de Polignac (Hannah Cabell) and Therese de Lamballe (Polly Lee). Not surprisingly (with ludicrous upwardly mobile wigs upon their heads), they discuss fashion while sampling portions of cake. Let's put it this way: Marie is not totally thrilled about the responsibilities and customs associated with her position as queen. Long ago, she was set up to marry Louis XVI (Steven Rattazzi). He is not exactly a physical dreamboat; his straggly gray wig does nothing for him. He admits, when pressed, that a penis problem prevents him from fulfilling his "duties" with his wife. Marie finds Axel Fersen (Jake Silbermann), a Swede, far more appealing. He would be a catch.
Joseph (Fred Arsenault) is Marie's brother and he brings word that their mother is disappointed that Marie and Louis XVI have not produced an heir. Besides, Marie, who flirts with others, loses both favor and some of her glamour. Finally, she decides to leave the region ...
During the first act, Marie Antoinette actually seems most at ease when speaking with a puppet-sheep, with vocals provided by David Greenspan. During the second portion of the show, the sheep is no longer around but the actor is. Marie, by now, is awaiting execution, as she and her family have been seized during the storming of the Bastille.
Fortunately, the Yale Rep rendering honors that great theatrical advisory by showing rather than telling the story. With a running time under two hours (including intermission) the production zips and zaps its way through many a visual/artistic gem. The stage is precisely adorned with yellow-gold scrims and see-through fabric. Riccardo Hernandez, scenic designer, adds just enough flavor to influence while not dominating the language. Costumer Gabriel Berry adorns all in varieties of colorful garb which is lively, sometimes amusing, and quite period-perfect. Matt Hubbs, providing sound, is responsible for noise which virtually shakes everyone sitting in the old theater. The entire presentation benefits from knowing direction by Rebecca Taichman who balances words with movement (assistance provided by Karole Armitage)all positives.
Ireland, as the title and leading character, is colloquial, comfortable, and very much in command of both her performance and the show. She is droll, she is funny. It seems very easy for her to play Marie. Rattazzi, opposite her as the downtrodden Louis XVI, is something of a hoot.
Marie Antoinette is, for a time, quite bizarre, but as the play transpires, both theme and mood become sharp, socially relevant, and even touching. Times have changed and Marie must deal with her fall from decadence and the implications of the political scene. There's a profound and universal relevance which emanates. Director Taichman has blocked off upper section seats within the house. The view from the center of the current last row (P) is ideal: one sees with encompassing perspective!
Marie Antoinette continues at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven through November 17th. For tickets, visit yalerep.org or call (203) 432-1234.
- Fred Sokol