The Gamm Theatre is closing its season with a play reaching back to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment. It's a crackling production. But is there a connection to today? Not so much.
The play is called “Marie Antoinette” and it is a wonderful, bright-eyed, goofy look at the life and times and very much the horrible death of the Austrian-born Queen of the French. It tells us of her selection, at the age of 14, mostly by politics, to marry the French King. It lets us see her very young, and uneducated, as she falls into a pattern of mediocrity flared with preposterous self-importance.
It says that the French court was mostly grandeur and giggles and tells us how the royals were fantastically out of touch as mobs of peasants, and intellectuals, became fighting forces, ready to take on, and defeat, a world-leading government.
The playwright, David Adjmi, has concocted a wacko setting both visually and by language. “Marie Antoinette” begins with ladies at tea. They wear glittering, glowing dresses, intricate and gaudy at once. Their hair? Well, it's actually wigs which rise to almost anti-aircraft heights. Their conversation, however, is all silliness, carefully delineated to please Her Majesty.
At the Gamm, director Rachel Walshe has carefully jumped into the fateful absurdness. The production moves rapidly and crisply for 90 uninterrupted minutes. And the Gamm has outdone itself transporting its small stage into everything from a palace to a jail cell with ease. Marilyn Salvatore's costumes are both riotous and sublime. The sound and lighting by Alex Eizenberg and Megan Estes are superior.
And as Marie Antoinette, Madeleine Lambert is superb in one of the best performance of the year in Rhode Island theater. She begins by showing us a young person both beset and enamored by her stately position. She's frilly and silly, fully taken by her Queenly self. Later, when things go terribly wrong, when she is assaulted, raped, torn from her position, Lambert is even better. She fights as much as anyone could, but without hope.
Others are excellent supporters. Casey Seymour Kim is a giggly riot as a Lady of the Court. Jed Hancock Brainerd plays King Louis XVI as a hilarious dope, and dupe. Tony Estrella is a perfect guard as a Swedish interloper. Alec Thibodeau plays a goat with much to say.
A “goat” you ask?. Yes, you'll just have to see “Marie Antoinette” to figure that out.
So, what's to complain about here?
Well, playwright Adjmi certainly did not set out to write a piece about the French Revolution's most famous name. Clearly, he wants to connect to our times. And there's the question. Are we talking of the trials of being a celebrity? Being misunderstood? Or perhaps correctly being found wanting. Is this a Kardashian run around? Or a Hillary Rodham Clinton take? Or just a general look at the difficulty of life in a gilded cage? It's tough to be on top, maybe?
I really don't know. And that loss is unfortunately a drawback to this show. Despite it's clever dialogue, its first-rate performing, it's sparkling production values, “Marie Antoinette” leaves you asking “What's it all about, Alfie.”
“Marie Antoinette” continues at the Gamm Theater in Pawtucket through May 31st.
Bill Gale reviews the performing arts for Rhode Island Public Radio.
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