An 18th century reality TV star
Despite her tragic demise, Marie Antoinette’s life had its comedic elements. And that’s putting it lightly.
“Her life was completely ludicrous,” says David Adjmi, playwright of the American Repertory Theater’s first show of the 2012/2013 season, which is titled after the infamous Queen of France.
“She wore gigantic, three-foot wigs. Birds lived in them and ships [perched on the top of them]. Just the ecosystems of these wigs were inarguably grandiose. I couldn’t image writing about that with a straight face.”
Antoinette was the Paris Hilton of pre-revolutionary France, an extravagant, flighty member of the 1 percent. She was beheaded more than 250 years ago, but her reputation endures through modern-day dramatizations.
“Somehow she’s a sponge for whatever anxieties we have about the way we live, especially in the spectrum of global capitalism,” says Adjmi. “It was impossible to write this play without seeing how it dovetails with culture right now.”
But does Antoinette get a bad rap? At 14, the Austrian native abandoned everything she knew — her family, language and comforts — to live in a foreign court. There, she was in the public eye constantly, like an 18th-century reality TV star.
“It was disorienting and jarring for her,” explains Adjmi. “She used eccentric fashion and attention-seeking to buffer some real emotional loss — in my play, anyway. That’s how I imagined it.”
Adjmi admits he’s no history buff. Though he did some research before writing “Marie Antoinette,” he didn’t worry about historical fidelity in the play.
“I need to study history in a very personal way, with interpolations,” he says with a laugh. Audiences will get that message when talking sheep take the stage.