Entering Curio Theatre for Marie Antoinette, I was struck by how much the set—an amusingly makeshift, low-budget evocation of gilded excess, meant to suggest Versailles—could have been Mar-a-lago. No accident there, I’m sure—the parallels between one self-centered, compassionless regime and another could hardly be more pointed. For me, the tragicomic highlight in David Adjmi’s clever but thin play occurs in the second act, when Marie wonders what possible governmental alternative there could be to absolute monarchy. “Democracy,” is the response, to which she replies, “No… really.”
Welcome to the Palace of Louis XVI—specifically, a sitting room off to the side, where his entertaining but bitchy wife, Marie Antoinette, nibbles macarons and gossips with two female friends. Seen here, Marie might be France’s answer to Elle Woods before her journey to self-empowerment. It’s 1776, and things outside are pretty dire. Over the next ten-plus years, they’ll get even worse, but Marie and her giggly girlfriends hardly notice. King Louis isn’t paying attention either. He’s focused on his hobby—fixing clocks.
This is, of course, the Marie Antoinette of legend, a historical target we all love to hate. Some recent scholarship suggests she got a raw deal, but Adjmi’s script dwells in “let ‘em eat cake” land. There’s considerable wit in the dialogue, and director Brenna Geffers showcases it with imaginative production that delivers an impressively consistent and high level of style, especially in the acting.
But to what end? The amusement of Act I is almost entirely one-note, and like an elongated Saturday Night Live sketch which it in some ways resembles, it’s played out long before it stops. There’s more emotional and intellectual weight in Act II, but it’s too little, too late—and even here, mostly received wisdom about Marie Antoinette, recycled from multiple sources. Adjmi brings theatrical showmanship to the table, but not much else.
Still, the Curio company delivers a strong production, featuring a fine ensemble (Rich Bradford, Jessica DalCanton, Twoey Truong, and Liam Mulshine in multiple roles—Brian McCann excellent as King Louis.) As Marie, Jennifer Summerfield does well with the glassy artifice and bite that characterize her early on, but is less effective in the later, more serious moments.
But then that’s true of Marie Antoinette as a whole. Granted, the show has éclat… but in the end, the big unanswered question is: Pourquoi?
Marie Antoinette plays through March 10. For more information, visit the Curio Theatre website.