Review: Marie Antoinette

Matt Dobie reviews David Adjmi's Marie Antoinette performed at Pure Theatre in Charleston, SC









David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette at PURE Theatre

The story of Marie Antoinette is a familiar one. You read it in school or saw a movie about it once. Well, you don’t know this story of Marie Antoinette. David Adjmi’s play about the infamous 18th Century Queen of France gives depth to a character we’ve only known as an archetype. It is at times hilarious and other times tragic. It delves into existentialism and concerns about the role of government. The script itself is certainly full of life, but it’s the cast and crew of PURE Theater that gives it a quickened pulse and a razor focus that is guaranteed to enthrall.

Sharon Graci (PURE Theatre Co-Founder) directs this gem of a performance, adding tasteful nuances to an already brilliant script. The opening sequence, for example, is not in the original script, but is truly inspired, and sets the mood for the entire performance. She gets creative with the scene changes. Rather than crewmembers clad in black, moving set pieces on a darkened stage, the actors themselves do the moving and stay in character while doing it. A fine, creative hand is obviously at work behind the scenes and as the mood changes throughout the play, she masterfully conducts the production, creating a powerful and cohesive vision of a downward spiral.

The cast and crew harmonize beautifully to bring this concept to fruition. As the show begins, costume designers Janine Marie McCabe and Taylor-Ann Spencer garner Marie in an extravagant pink dress with comically tall macaroni. She is slowly made less gaudy as the story progresses until finally Marie is reduced to wearing nothing but filthy rags. Lighting designer Lauren Duffie bathes Marie in white light, revealing her beauty. But later, distant lights from each side of the stage cast dark, invasive shadows, evoking paranoia and uncertainty. These features enhance her characterization, but it’s the performance of Haydn Haring in the titular role that truly brings us into the mind of Marie Antoinette.

In a word, Haydn Haring is marvelous. Her disposition reflects the tone of the play so perfectly that a photographic still of her is all you would need to realize the intended mood. She is the gossiping 18th Century valley girl. She is the concerned wife and mother. She is the isolated lunatic, desperately grasping for a fleeting scrap of sanity. As the story begins, she is so easy to hate, then she makes us question our preconceived notions, then she inspires empathy. It is a remarkable performance.

The sound design of Miles Boinest is also essential. In one scene, we hear the various pops and sizzles of an unseen firework display. In another, we hear the rising cries of angry masses. Rather than letting us remain an audience watching from afar, we’re brought into Marie’s world—a part of it—compelling us to discuss the ideals and issues raised, all of which are still relevant today.

David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette is a poignant and powerful tale brought to life by the cast and crew of PURE Theatre. Their harmonious execution of the slowly altering mood is an artistic achievement. Truly a must see. Performances run through May 9th so set aside a date in your calendar to check it out.

Marie Antoinette

Learn more about PURE Theatre here along with the playwright and other members:

David Adjmi, playwright

Sharon Graci, director and co-founder of PURE Theatre

Haydn Haring, Marie Antoinette