“I was built to be this thing and now they're killing me for it." -- Marie Antoinette
Trustus Theater starts off its 31st season strong with Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi. In the first act, Director Robert Richmond takes the audience down the rabbit hole to a French rave where Marie Antoinette is the Mad Hatter presiding over what appears to be her own opulent, insane tea party, which sets the pace for the evening. This is not a stuffy historical piece by any means. It’s sexy, provocative, humorous, and it eventually takes you to a very dark place.
Jennifer Moody Sanchez is our Marie, the girl who was plucked from Austria at 14 years old to marry wimpy Louis XVI, played by G. Scott Wild, and then went on to become the Queen of France at the tender age of 19. Moody Sanchez is a strong performer, giving us a Marie that is silly and frivolous, but grows strong with backbone as the play goes on, and ultimately descends into madness during her final days. Moody Sanchez did some of her best work of the night in the second act as Marie grapples with sanity in her prison cell. It’s a series of intense scenes and Moody Sanchez gives a haunting performance. Props to Robert Richmond for being willing to take it so dark. Bold choices are powerful, especially when a director uses them to create a very consistent stylized world, like Richmond has. That said, I would have liked to have seen more vulnerability in Marie at times, something with which we can empathize and connect.
Sanchez is not alone in offering a fine performance. G. Scott Wild gives us a perfect Louis XVI; an awkward, possibly impotent, man-child. Marie’s ladies of the court, Therese De Lomballe, played by Lindsay Rae Taylor, and Yolande de Polignac played by Ellen Rodillo-Fowler are like those two girls at a party who keep pressuring you to take another shot; the kind of women who tell you “go ahead, buy it in both colors” on a shopping trip, the ‘yes’ women to Marie. I especially liked Rodillo-Fowler in her scene as a creepy peasant and Taylor’s scenes as Therese showing true friendship to Marie. Eric Bultman plays the most striking and sexy sheep anyone would ever want to see. That’s right, he plays Marie’s sheep friend, her spirit animal, and he sometimes informs her of the realities of her situation. Bultman physically nails every beat. The terribly handsome Ben Blazer plays Axel Fersen, Marie’s man on the side. Blazer has a nice natural stage presence that is so easy to believe. Paul Kaufmann plays the Revolutionary who imprisons Marie and her family. Kauffman is a strong actor who makes a nice subtle transformation over the second act, in that he starts out with extreme hatred for Marie, but that hatred slowly turns to pity as her execution draws near. Chris Cook plays Joseph, Marie’s brother, come to get answers for why an heir hasn’t been produced in the seven years since Marie and Louis have been married. Cook is a joy to watch: he has impeccable timing and gives some really delightful deliveries that keep the audience laughing. Cade Melnyk, with a face of a cherub, plays the little Dauphin very well. He happens to be in one of my favorite scenes, a carriage ride depicted using only three chairs. The three actors sell it with perfect timing and movement which results in a very believable and entertaining scene.
Costumes by Jean Gonzalaz Lomasto were a joy. Marie’s frocks are one-of-a-kind pieces of art, as were the wigs by Mark Ziegler and the jewelry by Neely Wald. The lighting design by Marc Hearst was on point; I particularly enjoyed a scene where Marie and Axel watch fireworks in the distance. I really enjoyed what Baxter Engle did with the sound during the prison/madness scenes; an echoing treatment that is very effective. The set, designed by Kimi Maeda and constructed by Brandon Mclver is quite impressive as basically a giant reflective guillotine blade, always there, always reminding us where this is all going to end.
And that’s really what it’s all about, right? The falling of a great star. We build them up to burn them down a la 2007's Britney Spears. Marie herself pretty much sums it up toward the end of the second act, “I was built to be this thing and now they're killing me for it”. Overall, it’s a beautiful production, well played and well executed. (Pun intended.) A feast for the eyes. Get your tickets to the disco mad tea party now as shows will be selling out. The show runs through Oct.3rd.
Correction: A previous version of this review omitted the contributions of Neely Wald.