Marie Antoinette at the Woolly Mammoth is two plays.
You know how it ends. You know there’s a line about cake. Between the line about cake and the detached entry of the place most people put cake, the play shifts. After the party there’s no hotel lobby.
The comedy into drama at the Woolly Mammoth is the first production of their 35th anniversary. It’s a great way to draw in new theatergoers. The art department of the Woolly always does a fantastic job and this campaign is no exception. The photo of lead actress Kimberly Gilbert with spiked grey hair, mouth full of Twizzlers and an alert glare tells you everything and nothing. In the play, Marie has no grey hair, Twizzlers are not present during the production and that look is never seen.
The play by David Adjimi begins with Marie already in France, married to a gutless Louis XVI. It’s a party. There’s a hot tub. There’s cocaine. There are chocolates and bikinis and nothing much to do. There’s no baby. There are some problems having a baby. There are some problems with the marriage. There’s something outside of the party that the party guests don’t really care about. Act I is mostly fun.
The party ends. Act II shines the light on that fun, revealing a much larger stage and a much darker world and the comedy is now a drama.
There are two clear reasons to see this production of a story you know. Lead Kimberly Gilbert is fantastic. She’s got great timing in the first act and she’s able to make you sympathize with an unsympathetic character in the second act. She’s giving the kind of performance that will make you want to follow her to her next production.
Set designer Misha Kachman added a dramatic element to the play. We go from bright, bright lights and colors to sparse light and empty space. Marie and company is nearly in the audience for the first scene. By the last, Marie is a world away. The slow and deliberate reveal of the stage remains consistent as Marie’s world shrinks. We see more, she has less, figuratively and literally.
The play has fun. Everybody knows it comes apart but there are light moments. When that’s gone, the dramatic performances really draw in the audience. It may not be a good play for date night, but if you like talking to your date about life, death, capitalism, comedy, drama and everything but god, it may be a great play for date night.