“It’s all in the gullet,” she tells us, most emphatically and with great comic timing. And boy, does she get it right, metaphorically speaking, in every way, shape, and form. For a Zoom event, a dish that I’m starting to have a bit of a high-fructose sugar crash from after relying on them so heavily for the past 18 months, David Adjmi’s magnificent and wonderfully rich Marie Antoinette is as celebratory as a triple chocolate layer cake delivered on a royal silver platter. With no surprise what this play is all about, the reunion reading of SoHo Rep‘s 2013 production, produced and presented on demand now through August 9th by Play-PerView, delivers with a surprisingly tasty blast of fun, frivolity, and history, making me literally kick myself for not having seen it before. With the deliciously talented Marin Ireland (ATC’s Blue Ridge; CSC’s Summer and Smoke) taking on the lead as she did in that SoHo Repproduction, playing the impossible Marie Antoinette, this is one big slice of well-crafted cake, one that I just couldn’t pass up, regardless of the calories.
Under the swift and smart direction of Tony Winner Rebecca Taichman (Broadway’s Indecent; NYTW’s Sing Street), Adjmi’s play comes alive, even on Zoom, with a witty modern spark that is as tasty in its detail as it is in its humor. The play is a tight 90 minutes of modern-day teenage frivolity, layered with historical relevance that is as striking as it is smart, unmasking a Marie Antoinette, thanks to Ireland, that is both ridiculously silly and surprisingly endearing, in all the best ways possible. Backed up by a delightfully sharp group of actors, some returning to the roles they had back in 2013, namely Jennifer Ikeda (“Dash & Lily”), David Greenspan (Six Time Obie Winner), Karl Miller (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Will Pullen (“DICKINSON”), Steven Rattazzi (“The Venture Brothers”), and Chris Stack (Ugly Lies The Bone); with a few new to the piece, namely Kat Williams (For All The Women Who Thought They Were Mad) and Carmen Zilles (Fefu and Her Friends), the play struts itself forward as if on parade, as only the flouncy and overly done Marie Antoinette could and would. Whether the country could afford it or not.
Developed within the Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Series along with the Sundance Institute’s Residency at the Public Theatre, Marie Antoinette premiered in a well-recieved co-production between the American Repertory Theater and Yale Repertory Theatre in the Fall of 2012. This zoom reunion reading of the 2013 SoHo Rep production that I streamed live on Aug 5th, truly made me wish I had seen or somehow in the near future see, a fully realized staged production, showcasing those famous sky high wigs and the overly done period costumes that the stage manager’s text refers to. It must have been a sight to see, and I can’t believe I never even heard of it before this week.
“Butterflies can’t scream,” she exclaims, but watching Ireland deftly deliver a sugar-high speediness, no scream is needed. The dark rich interior of this confection, served up with a side of history and humor, only finds its way to deepen the impact, as we watch those nutty royals ride their carriage towards the deadly outcome that we all know will come at the end of that road. It’s a sharp and joyful journey to bear witness to in Adjmi’s version of France’s souring love affair with these royals, as Ireland gives us a very poorly mannered Marie, brilliantly embodied before us. Her face-making infantile Marie, alongside the clock-obsessed and overwhelmed Louis, King of France, is a hysterical delight, while they fuel a revolution to the surging chants of “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité!” But it is deep inside the play’s cleverly high-minded headdress that we see how cleverly and clearly the contemporary stance forces us to look into that wisely cracked mirror, reflecting back not our beauty, but our own current self-obsessed superficial society. Smart move, Adjmi, storming society with its own history.
“Don’t mar it with facts,” we are told, and playwright David Adjmi (Elective Affinities; 3C) takes his own advice, by giving serving up a wild modernist take on the young queen of France that is a comical extravagance of the artifice she is historically known for, while also delivering a bipolar Valley Girl brattiness that sweetly sings in a light breezy Pastoral manner of sheep and windmills, with an astonishingly wise after-taste of honest connectivity. Somehow, quite miraculously, Ireland makes us actually like this woman, in the end, even with all her superficial obliviousness and utter preposterous selfishness. “I’m a Queen, not a whore,” she pleads, and somewhere underneath that proclamation lies the bedrock of Ireland’s strong performance, where she adds layers of wonderfully smart and funny flavors to a richly flavored cake that defies gravity and logic. And with the well-placed and delivered line, “let them eat cake,” this Marie Antoinette, wisely curated for our pleasure, delights our taste buds with its wicked deliciousness and wisely baked humor, with a tasty “spot of tea” on the proverbial side.
The Virtual tickets starting at just $5.00 are available here. All proceeds will benefit Cultural Solidarity Fund.
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