In 'Marie Antoinette' at Dobama, a Rock ‘em, Sock 'em Version of the Doomed Royal

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click to enlarge In 'Marie Antoinette' at Dobama, a Rock ‘em, Sock 'em Version of the Doomed Royal
Steve Wagner Photography
Apparently, it is part of the human condition to be entranced by showy splurges of wealth by people who are not very bright yet weirdly popular with certain segments of the public. Yes, I’m talking about Donald Trump, and who isn’t! In the April 25 issue of the usually staid The New Yorker, all of the cartoons are Trump-themed. Gah!

If we’re looking for an antecedent to the Trump phenomenon in history, perhaps we have it in the story of the 18th-century French queen who lived fast and crashed hard. In Marie Antoinette, the dazzlingly produced show now on the boards at Dobama Theatre, the basic storyline is rolled out: A young and profligate queen who said “Let them eat cake!” was eventually decapitated.

But the script by David Adjmi is all 21st century, chock full of self-awareness, in-jokes and psychoanalytic references. This is matched by director Nathan Motta’s vigorous staging, which emphasizes a pounding sound design by Richard Ingraham and in-your-face projections designed by Mike Tutaj. This all combines for a fast and blustery ride in the first act, as we watch Marie and her doofus husband Louis XVI putter through their luxury-laden lives with nary a care.

Bedecked in a towering Marge Simpson hairdo and wearing sumptuous raiment designed by Tessia Dugan Benson, we watch Marie try to negotiate the royal life she was tossed into at age 14. And she handles it about as well as most 9th-graders would, indulging in sweets and complaining about limp Louis. She even wants him to get circumcised to speed up the production of an heir.

True to a teenager, she confides in an imaginary friend, a talking sheep she chats with while in her castle’s rustic little retreat, where she samples life as it’s lived outside the pearly gates of Versailles. She also dallies with a studly Swedish nobleman (the ripped and ready Joe Pine), since her hubby is busy in his workshop tinkering with clocks.

As entertaining as all this is, we never get a fix on who Marie really is beneath the frou-frou and flan. And that problem extends into Act Two, when the situation gets progressively more serious for Loopy Lou and Marie. Taken prisoner by Robespierre’s radicals, it’s a steady slide into pain and obscurity for the former King and Queen, and their son, the Dauphin (Easton Sumlin).

As Marie, the fine actor Carly Germany does most of the heavy lifting since she’s on stage for virtually the whole show. And she turns in a performance that is entirely professional in every aspect. But Germany is given a task that is vexing indeed, since she is called upon to be a cartoon figure early on and then morph into an almost-middle-aged woman grappling with monumental philosophical and political issues as the French Revolution explodes around her. Adjmi’s script doesn’t quite make that click, even though Germany manages to conquer it in fits and starts.

Germany is well supported by other actors. As the laughable Louis, Dan Hendrock is an absolute riot as he channels Buster Bluth from Arrested Development and Gary Walsh, the personal aide from Veep, creating his own unique version of male impotence and incompetence.

Lara Mielcarek doesn’t just steal the show whenever she’s on stage in her two brief roles. She packs the audience into a small suitcase where we can’t escape and can’t take our eyes off her. First she amuses as the quite daft yet perhaps scheming Yolande de Polignac, one of Marie’s powdered and cosseted sycophants. And later, she returns with a fearsome underbite as mean and IQ-challenged Mrs. Sauce. She is a shopkeeper (along with Robert Hunter as her hubby) who, in just a few words, crafts a fearsome presence. Indeed, Mielcarek is so quietly and exuberantly scary as Mrs. Sauce, she makes Mrs. Lovett, the baker of human meat pies in Sweeney Todd, seem as unthreatening as Betty Crocker.

As the talking sheep inside Marie’s head, Abraham Adams swans about like a terminally bored Noel Coward as he comments on Marie’s shortcomings and warns her of restlessness in the countryside. But Adams’ schtick grows a bit tired by the second act, when a slightly different approach might be appropriate.

Strong performances are also turned in by Ryan Zarecki as a revolutionary guard who torments Marie in her final days, and Rachel Lee Kolis as Marie’s gal pal Therese and then as a Royalist.

From the staging angle alone, Dobama’s Marie Antoinette is a blockbuster. But the playwright’s pro forma discussion of weighty issues at the end feels a little too pat and entirely out-of-synch with the rest of the script. You want to have fun with Marie again, go ahead. But then don’t try to turn her into a Dr. Phil-style victim of family expectations or a faux-Hannah Arendt in the last few moments.

Marie Antoinette
Through May 22 at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-932-3396.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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