The interrogation of Marie Antoinette turns out to reveal nothing more than what we already knew: She was a self-indulgent twit, overdecorated and undereducated, with a major compassion deficiency.

The interrogation of Marie Antoinette turns out to reveal nothing more than what we already knew: She was a self-indulgent twit, overdecorated and undereducated, with a major compassion deficiency. For a company whose sympathies are usually left-wing, this seems an odd and generally pointless attempt to rehabilitate one of the least interesting monarchs in the history of Europe.

Three main ideas emerge, none of which is news to anybody, especially anybody who has read Tolstoy: The truth of the past is unavailable, royals are the slaves of those they rule, and rulers are the puppets of history (a notion literalized here via Louis XVI’s being represented by a stuffed dummy with a grotesque face). Since Louis seems far less a dummy (less manipulable as well as less stupid) than his wife, that choice itself distorts the pity we are asked to feel.

The visual images are imaginative but often excessive. The stage is divided from the audience by iron gates; strewn in front of those gates (symbolizing both prison and privilege) are life-size stuffed figures in various attitudes of misery — presumably the soon-to-be-revolutionaries. Also outside the gates, but in what seems to be a contemporary space in time, the Prosecutor (Conrad Bishop) sits at a desk and cross-examines the past. During this inquisition (much of which is overwritten), whichever of the women is not playing the Queen speaks for and manipulates the stuffed figure of Louis.

We see the young Marie Antoinette (Heather Stuart) counseled by her mother, the indomitable Empress Maria Theresa of Austria (Elizabeth Fuller), in the “protocol of dancing on eggshells,” while the girl plays with her dolls as she will soon play with her Petite Trianon and aristocratic milkmaids and the bigger dolls who represent her children.

On a framed scrim behind the action appear shadow figures — Marie Antoinette’s secret lover, her courtiers, her public — both adoring and murderous. Fuller is particularly moving in her delicate and human interactions with the dolls, puppets and shadows, but there is simply too little reason to be so moved.

Marie Antoinette

Old City Stage Works, Philadelphia; 49 seats; $16

Production

An Independent Eye presentation, in collaboration with the Jean Cocteau Repertory, of a play in two acts by Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller. Directed and designed by Bishop.

Creative

Music, Fuller; costumes, Susan Soetaert; stage manager, Bridget Markov; dolls, Amy Gorbey. Opened Sept. 28, 1994. Reviewed Sept. 30. Running time: 2 HOURS.

Cast

The Prosecutor - Conrad Bishop The Widow - Elizabeth Fuller The Girl - Heather Stuart The Shadows - Trina Collins, Eric Schoefer, Paul Struck
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