Chicago | ‘Marie Antoinette’

France. Monarchy. Opulence. Chaos.

Set in traverse on a gem-shaped catwalk, the kingdom of Queen Marie and King Louis XVI is revised, revamped and turned up to eleven. Portrayed in full glamour, with a bass-heavy French soundtrack, the court of Louis XVI is pompous, extravagant and woefully naïve.

Let’s start at the beginning: why this play? Is it of this time, does it satirise contemporary culture, and is it authentic?

Marie Antoinette

Coppola’s filmic version of events is a constant discussion point when sifting through other reviews of this particular production. Why did David Adjmi essentially rehash her work, only for the stage? While Coppola’s is perceived as the more successful depiction, having never seen the film, I can’t draw any comparison. But some of the points raised resemble a few of my own, and partly answers the question of authenticity. So onto the next: what story was being told?

By telling the story from the court’s bubble-like perspective, it could have gone one of four ways:

The Revolution comes out of nowhere.
Talk of civil unrest is dismissed, and the Revolution takes them by surprise.
Word makes it way into the court, creating a tsunami of uncertainty and eventual violence.
All of the above.

This performance had many a grand idea, but in attempting to do them, they followed through with none. By revising Marie to that of a modern-day celebrity, where the society/social order that created her pedestal demands a violent refund, it answers the question of topicality. In a similar vain to the Hiltons and Kardashians, Marie is a teen-queen who was molded from birth, and a money-spender because it was expected – what else is a girl to do? Unfortunately, this does not pay off in the rest of the play, affecting both the structure and pacing of the historical timeline presented – the Revolution taking the biggest beating.

One of the most turbulent revolutions of history was so hilariously underwhelming, this production managed to make it look uncalled for. By painting Marie as a stubborn victim, it fails to even become the second part of my original why – satire. A person’s voice is important, regardless of supposed status, but when you paint a character as three people – an indignant upholder of sovereign rule, yet uninterested in the title, and a sympathetic figure all at the same time – believability is removed.

Purely character criticism rather than historical, within her final scenes, and for the first time in the entire play, she brings up this notion of sovereign rule. Not even as a last resort in the vain hope of escape – after everything that has happened, it is now something that she not only believes in, but has a vague understanding of (history says she wasn’t the smartest cookie but knew she was born to be Queen). The thing about Sovereign Rule is that it can only be trumped by Sovereign Rule by Divinity, and during the ruling Monarch years, it was the political correctness card of its era – tactically used and it shut people up. In a prison cell, with your material goods ripped from you and receiving a haircut by a revolutionary’s blade, however, is not one of those times – she became a victim, he was callous, and not for the right reasons. Yes, you felt for Marie, but there is a reason the Revolution happened.

Perhaps it was the matinee, maybe it was the text – this was a slow but erratic piece. Ignoring historical accuracy for a moment, much of the play’s thirty minutes points out that Louis, after seven years, is yet to give Marie a child. Inside one scene, not only does she have a child who can do wheelies with his trainers, her second child is ill and, in a matter of lines, is dead. A large part of me wonders, too, if it was in fact the delivery of the text rather than the text itself, focus being the culprit. The onscreen historical descriptors rather than a physical portrayal made certain scene changes dead stage time – for an ensemble company, I think they could have managed a bit of a ruckus. The actors looked bored and exhausted, creating emotional inconsistencies throughout their delivery, exposing occasional cracks in each character’s profiling.

Undeniable is the craft behind their choice of music, costuming and scenography. Costume changes for Marie were executed onstage with precision, and the use of the space was wonderfully fit for purpose.
As an introduction to the company, it was not a bad start. Unfortunately, like its Revolution, I was underwhelmed by quite a stoic performance, undermined by what appeared to be either indecisive direction, or an exhausted cast.

‘Marie Antoinette’ at Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago, IL


One thought on “Chicago | ‘Marie Antoinette’

  1. Pingback: Chicago | Resumed Programming | Laidig's Broadway


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