During a tea party, Marie Antoinette — wearing a Cyndi Lauper-inspired tulle dress, blue wig and strings of pearls — complains that she feels trapped in the Palace of Versailles. The French queen, who was married to Louis XVI at age 14 to Louis XVI, takes a bite of expensive chocolate and sighs, saying she's misunderstood by the public, in The NOLA Project's production of Marie Antoinette at NOCCA's Nims Black Box Theatre.
Written by David Adjmi, the show chronicles the years after Louis XVI (A.J. Allegra) ascends to the throne, which makes Austrian-born Marie (Cecile Monteyne) the Queen of France. In the run-up to the French Revolution, she deals with public scrutiny of her opulent lifestyle and failure to bear an heir quickly. The story takes place in the late 1700s, but this production links Marie's life to modern celebrity culture through pop music interludes featuring Miley Cyrus and Lorde. The contemporary framework, complete with paparazzi mob videos, frames the queen's story in comtemporary ideas of wealth and fame. It also gives the production a stunning visually and thematically stylized aesthetic.
Initially, Marie's wardrobe, beautifully designed by Shauna Leone, is chic — full of trippy colors, broaches and elbow-length gloves. As the story progresses, the clothes are literally stripped away, creating stark contrast as she is disempowered. Bill Walker's impressive set is a platform shaped like a guillotine, with a blade and two chair-sized screws.
In an excellent performance, Monteyne delivers a slow burn, going from a seemingly vapid teen queen to a humiliated but resilient figure. There's a hypnotic quality to Monteyne's presence as she transforms from out-of-touch queen to a vulnerable woman who can no longer control her life. Marie's fierce personality contrasts with Louis XVI, who's as insecure as he is indecisive. The king is challenged, directly and surreptitiously, by Marie's brother Joseph (Will Bowling) and the charming Axel Fersen (James Yeargain), with whom the queen has sexual tension. Allegra's childlike king gets big laughs as Monteyne's comedic foil.
As the revolution erupts, the mobs descend on the palaces. In a gripping scene, Marie, who's lost everything, has her formerly big and beautiful hair forcefully cut off by a revolutionary (Graham Burk), who is chilling as he collects her locks in a bucket. The dethroned queen musters whatever strength she can as she awaits trial.
Everything comes together seamlessly in the stellar show and opening production of The NOLA Project's 11th season.