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Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh
Joel Gross's Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh combines fact and fiction to create a fascinating and enlightening account of the two decades in French history and the life of the queen leading up to her death and the downfall of the French monarchy. For historians, Gross's story of an imagined love triangle between the queen (Amanda Jones), her real-life portraitist, Elisabeth Louise Vigee le Brun (Samantha Ives), and the fictional revolutionary aristocrat and rake, Count Alexis de Ligne (Jonathan Kells Phillips), mixes reality and fantasy in a way that may be somewhat frustrating.
King Louis XVI and his bride did indeed have sexual problems at the beginning of their marriage, but these problems were not due to the coldness of the king and the inexperience of the queen. They were caused be a certain physical condition the king suffered from, a condition that, at the suggestion of Marie Antoinette's brother, was cured by a simple operation well known to Jews and Muslims. And if Marie Antoinette had a lover, it certainly was not de Ligne.
For theatergoers The Color of Flesh is quite satisfying. The highly literate dialogue often goes on a bit too long, but Robert Kalfin's energetic direction keeps the play from getting bogged down in its own eloquence. And Kevin Judge's excellent set — three arches fanning out one behind the other — frames the action and gives the small stage an element of depth.
Jones, Ives and Phillips develop their roles magnificently, visibly demonstrating the effects the revolution and maturity has had on their characters. Hugo Salazar, Jr., who plays the silent footman not only facilitates scene changes but also mutely comments on the antics of those he serves.
By the end of the play, le Brun has learned that self-sacrifice is more rewarding than self-promotion. She speaks with real tenderness and her relationships with both the queen and the count become tinged with sorrow and regret. De Ligne comes back from the American Revolution aware that he is neither brave nor heroic He is still passionate about freedom and equality, but he has gone through a reality check that has left him both psychically and physically scarred.
Most nuanced is Jones's portrayal of the queen who is alternately dignified and playful, noble and needy, sexy and subdued. Reputedly, Marie Antoinette's last words were "excuse me" spoken after she had stepped on the foot of the executioner. As The Color of Flesh ends, shortly before Marie Antoinette's execution, the queen seems entirely capable of such elegant politeness.
Exploring political events and historical characters is not always easy onstage. Not the least of the author's problems is the fact that the audience pretty much knows the ending. But with the support of a capable director and a talented cast, The Color of Flesh rises above pedantry and preaching to the exhilarating heights of drama that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
©Copyright 2008, Elyse Sommer.
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