Leave a comment

Occupy Versailles

Last night, I saw Marie Antoinette at the ART, and I enjoyed it.  It was a good show with a good script and a fantastic design (seriously, you haven’t seen theatre until you’ve seen three women in wigs so tall that they’re attached to the ceiling with wires). It tells the story of the last years (though it skips a few; in the first few scenes Marie doesn’t have any children, and then suddenly one of them is at least 10) of Marie Antoinette’s life, from the frivolity of her life at Versailles and the stirrings of the revolution, to her imprisonment and impending beheading. It is told through short scenes, with transitions between them in which Marie, onstage, changes clothes and often hair while music plays. The dialogue is completely modernized, and features a lot of colorful, contemporary words and phrases.

There were times, especially near the end of Act 2, where very big ideas of freedom, democracy, legacy, etc, were being discussed, and since the dialogue was so casual and colloquial it sometimes felt a bit on the nose. Themes that had been adequately and subtly explored were suddenly being articulated by characters in a way that felt too straightforward. At the very end, for example, Marie has a monologue about her life where she ends by concluding that even though she was going to die, they couldn’t really kill her, because now she was a part of history. And honestly that last part almost ruined the whole experience for me, because I just wanted roll my eyes and yell OF COURSE, we get it, we’re watching a play about her in 2012 so obviously she hasn’t completely disappeared. But then I took a deep breath and got over it and went on to the talkback with the playwright.

The talkback added a whole new level to my experience. The playwright, David Adjmi, was very funny and honest, which was fantastic. He talked about how he wrote the play in 2006, and didn’t make a huge amount of changes since then. Of course, in the past six years, our country has experienced a recession and the Occupy movement, both which place the story of Marie Antoinette in a completely different, relevant light. Adjmi said that he didn’t really like that, though. He wasn’t interested in writing a “political” play, though there are obviously unavoidable political issues in his story. He said he felt like it was almost too obvious and derivative to do a play about Marie Antoinette in a time of economic hardship and popular protests.

What I find really interesting, though, is that the ART is totally playing up the fact that this story can be seen almost as an allegory for our times. On the website, they refer to Marie as the “infamous representative of the 1%,” taking the Occupy movement’s key buzzword. In the “Brief Timeline that in some measure relates to this play” printed in the program, they jump from 1830 to January 2012, where “the bottom 50 percent of income earners in the U.S. now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth” (isn’t that an awful statistic? Completely separate from this show, that just shocked and horrified me). Finally, in Artistic Director Diane Paulus’ welcome note, she writes that “the play sends a detonating message about the world we live in today.”

Now, I don’t blame them for playing up this angle. I think it would be silly not to, since it is inevitable that audience members will draw a connection. I just think it’s interesting that the author’s work is being framed in this way. I don’t think he’s actively against it; he just hadn’t intended it. It’s fascinating how art can take on a life so far beyond what the artist imagined or intended, and how it can transform with the changing times.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: