Theatre Review: Marie Antoinette exposed at Curio Theatre Company
Philadelphia Theater is abuzz with Marie Antoinette this month. She is a featured player in The Revolutionists at Theatre Horizon, and she is the principal focus of the eponymic Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi presently playing at Curio Theatre Company. Director Brenna Geffers in her notes indicates that the play is as much about our present time as it is about political struggles in France during the late eighteenth century.
The play opens with our queen accompanied by two frenemies who both agree with Marie Antoinette obsequiously while criticizing her brutally when not in her presence. Director Geffers makes it clear that Marie has no grasp on reality, nor any understanding of how both politics and the world operate. In the incredibly deft hands of Jennifer Summerfield, Marie’s foibles and naivete manage to stay on the right side of buffoonery. The scandals (both real and merely conjectured) of Marie Antoinette’s life are plumbed and emphasized. This could easily become a vaudeville routine, but the ensemble, strong across the board, manages to bring just enough plausibility to keep it from losing its edge.
As the feckless Louis XVI, Brian McCann complements Ms. Summerfield’s Marie by demonstrating clearly the king’s fears, insecurities, and disassociation from the realities of his monarchy. The king and queen become exposed by the revolution for their shortcomings in governance, empathy, and understanding. As the play develops the characters begin to realize how unrealistic their lives had become in the face of both The Enlightenment and the starving crowds of French peasants. Self- awareness is very slow in coming and for Queen Marie it takes the magical form of a talking sheep.
The ensemble includes Rich Bradford, Jessica DalCanton, Twoey Tuong, and Liam Mulshine. Each performs multiple roles, and each has more than one moment where they can shine. The director’s pace challenges the actors, but it is necessary. To dwell overly long on any one of the situations or familiar phrases (“Let’s not lose our heads” being one) would take any semblance of serious purpose away from the play. As the play twists and turns, the royal family must try to improvise and overcome, a skill set they were neither born with, nor had opportunity to develop. Their ineffectual attempts to avoid their fate is tragic. The playwright takes great pains to indicate that both monarchs were born to their lot and therefore should be judged by history as victims, at least in part. It is not just a frivolous monarchy on trial, but the class differences that were to continue to plague the ruling bodies of the world.
Paul Kuhn’s set design gives the actors and director plenty of space to tell their story. The physical limitations of Curio almost demand an environmental space. He manages with the aid of Tim Martin’s lighting, Chris Sannino’s sound and Aetna Gallagher’s costumes to create a section of a larger space instead of just filling a smaller space. My only quibble would be that wigs were inconsistent and at times looked like random hair thrown on top. To me that didn’t seem consistent with the representation of palatial excesses.
Marie Antoinette runs until March 10th. For ticket and information call 215-921-8243 or go to the Curio website www.curiotheatre.org.