The mix of farce and tragedy in David Adjmi’s “Marie Antoinette” is quite amazing. It’s a world premiere production at Yale Repertory Theatre through Nov. 17 that is a must-see.
What begins as a rather zany comedy about an out-of-touch rich girl who seems to deserve whatever might happen to her shifts into a harrowing drama/horror story about a woman who realizes — too late — she has been playing a public role that will result in her own destruction.
The tale of the 14-year-old Austrian girl who became the queen of France has been told countless times, but I doubt that the role has ever been played with more conviction than Marin Ireland gives it at Yale Rep.
The remarkable actress (a Tony nominee for “reasons to be pretty”) is not afraid to commit to the foolishness of the Marie we meet in the first scene, a dingbat who babbles with two of her friends about the delights of being pampered and rich. The artifice of Marie’s situation is emphasized by the brightly colored costume and set design of Gabriel Berry and Riccardo Hernandez — they make her almost indistinguishable from the pastries and candies she and her pals are consuming with such relish.
Marie and her girlfriends look pinned down by their many layered frocks and towering wigs (apparently, the real Marie did balance three-foot-tall hairpieces on her head).
Adjmi moves us quickly through Marie’s life at court, with the pressure building for seven years for the production of an heir. Gossips say Marie is “barren” but the truth is that Louis XVI has some reproductive problems that are eventually fixed surgically.
Director Rebecca Taichman seems to be perfectly in sync with Adjmi’s demand for rapid mood shifts. An audience that freely guffaws in the first half — which sometimes plays like a variation on “Clueless” set three centuries ago — shifts to rapt silence in the second half as Marie sees how out-of-touch she has been.
“Marie Antoinette” doesn’t excuse the behavior of the one percent in France in the late 18th century, but it does present the protagonist as someone who didn’t have any notion of her role in history until right before she was executed (Adjmi reminds us of the many rumored rescue missions that gave Marie some false hope for herself and her son Joseph).
The production is one of the most beautiful that I’ve ever seen at Yale Rep, but the visual splendor is abruptly halted with a spectacular bit of stage magic that is gasp-inducing because of the way it appears to physically threaten the leading lady.
Marin Ireland is becoming an increasingly sought after actress in film and television, so I would not miss this rare opportunity to see the performer connect so brilliantly with a stage role.