Emerson Stage to present ‘Marie Antoinette’ this weekend

By Mariyam Quaisar

Emerson Stage will conclude its fall season with a production of “Marie Antoinette,” that aims to present audiences with a revolutionary and contemporary take on the life of the final Queen of France through the hardships and pitfalls she faced. 

The cast and crew started rehearsals on Oct. 12, and, after a little over a month, they are ready to show the world their Marie from Nov. 18-21 in the Greene Theater. Directed by Annie. G Levy and written by David Adjmi, the play stars Giavanna Mariano, a senior theater and performance major, as Marie. 

“It’s a play that invites us to really look at this historical figure again and just to consider her,” Mariano said. “It’s not a pro-Marie Antoinette play, but it’s also not against her. She’s just a really fascinating figure, because she symbolized just this horrific excess of wealth, of focusing on being in a position of authority.”

Marie Antoinette was a divisive public figure with opinions ranging from hatred to sympathy to jealousy to allegiance because of the decisions she made as Queen of France and the way she acted in power and with wealth. 

“An important part of this show is talking about memory and legacy,” junior theater BFA major Josh O’Brien said. “Everyone has such a drastic opinion of her, whether it’s good or bad. Some of us see her as this beautiful fashion icon, and others see her as this terrible leader. No one feels lukewarm about her.” 

It is often overlooked that Marie, at the end of the day, was a human being with struggles, Mariano said. She was a woman in power who faced obstacles everywhere she looked, and much of the blame was pinned on her. 

“She was still a human being and she was a part of a system that didn’t teach her to be any better,” Mariano said. “It’s a lot easier to be mad at a person. I like theater that invites us to consider and to think and to come out on a Friday night and be like ‘oh yeah Marie Antoinette I really didn’t think about her that much.’” 

O’Brien plays multiple characters—Joseph, Marie’s brother, Mr. Sauce, a peasant shopkeeper who captures Marie when she tries to escape France, and a guard. He finds the portrayal of exorbitant wealth to be a major part of the production as we see Marie Antoinette live her life as a queen. 

“The importance lies in talking about wealth and the exorbitant wealth, and how that came to be Marie’s downfall,” O’Brien said. “I hope to evoke a sense of horror or awakening of this top one percent that exists in our society as well. It’s very reminiscent of that.”

While the show replicates historically accurate events, it is in itself a contemporary take on the story of Marie Antoinette.

“There’s not a lot of old French or old English, we’re not doing accents, I cuss and swear and yell at people and freak out,” Mariano said. “It’s a very modern, contemporary take on it, this Marie could be a person. We recognize this language. The set is incredible, the costumes are incredible. The designers worked incredibly hard. It’s informed by what the costumes of the day were, but it is also a modern take on [the designer’s] own design taste.” 

Marie’s costumes change throughout the play as Mariano dons different colors throughout the story to represent her character’s life experiences and growth. 

“We start from a very sort of frivolous pink, like Barbie, and then, as time goes on, and as Marie matures, the colors change,” Mariano said. “Ten years pass and [they] go from bubble gum pink to deep red and then deep midnight blue.”

While the costumes and sets are big and beautiful, they play their part of providing the show with extravagance until it is not needed anymore. The vision of the play changes as the play’s emotions change. 

Sophomore theater and performance major Julia Weinstock, who plays Yolande Martine Gabrielle de Polastron and Mrs. Sauce, said the show doesn’t aim to glorify Marie or the period setting. 

“It’s not romanticizing this time period, which is very important,” Weinstock said. “We have maybe two or three scenes that are pretty, fancy, expensive, extravagant but then it ends really close to the beginning because that’s not the point of it. There are some very luxurious costumes [and] bright colors, but it’s very purposeful. Some characters have bright colors and some very clearly do not.” 

One of the main themes, and a big part of the show’s vision, is fragmentation, according to Weinstock and Mariano. 

“At the beginning, Marie thinks everything’s great and then as things go wrong everything falls apart,” Mariano said. “The truth of the matter is it was already falling apart at the beginning, she was just very deliberately not paying attention to it and deleting herself.”

There is fragmentation in the physical sense as well, as the set acts on the emotions evoked throughout the play and the events. 

“It’s happening inside Marie, it’s happening around her, and it definitely happens when people come in and crash into Versailles and take it down,” Weinstock said. “The set itself fragments. There are almost no straight lines in the set, and it’s very stripped down and abstract. It’s meant to show not just extravagance, the point is to show the fall from extravagance.” 

The set breaking down not only represents the events of the time, but also Marie’s life as it falls apart. The show drastically changes in terms of feel and beauty to portray the story of the queen’s downfall.  

“The show shifts tones dramatically halfway through,” Mariano said. “You see these beautiful sets, these beautiful pillars of Versailles, they come out in humongous dresses and wigs, gorgeously decorated. And then, the walls break, there is fracturing and then we see the dirty, dingy side of Marie.”

The play hopes to confuse the audience about their opinions on Marie Antoinette because neutrality does not go hand in hand with her story and doings. 

“We’re not getting people to necessarily sympathize with Marie or to hate her,” Weinstock said. “We’re trying to tell her story truthfully. We anticipate people to dislike Marie. She has flaws, she said bad things, and we also want people to be surprised by finding themselves ending up feeling bad for her. The goal is to have people flip flop. It’s definitely a play that’s going to make you think and question yourself.”

Marie Antoinette is a woman of history who had power, money, and standing. She made bad choices but there is a depth to her that this play may show the audience, Mariano said. 

“What I hope is, by the end of the show, you’re not rooting for her demise in a ‘Whoo thank god I’m going to go get dinner now’ way,” she said. “I hope you’re like ‘All right, I understand how we came to be in this place.’ What I want is everybody’s second glance for Marie Antoinette and that’s all. Beyond that, who could say.”