Within the last decade or so, one could say that as a society we have become more obsessed with the lives of celebrities. As a 90’s baby, I remember being absolutely obsessed with the Spice Girls. I just wanted to know every single thing about them so I spent hours upon hours browsing their fan sites and purchasing books. Now in today’s celebrity obsessed culture, one can get up to the minute updates on their favorite celebs via Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat.
It’s hard to exactly pinpoint the very first celebrity, but one could argue that Marie Antoinette is more than deserving of this title. She was vibrant, ostentatious, gaudy, and not particularly self-aware. I’m sure we all know the infamous quote “Let them eat cake” Marie allegedly said this in response to her French subjects running out of bread. I say allegedly because it is not confirmed that Marie would say such a callous remark. It’s rumors like these, that gets Marie such a bad rap.
In David Adjmi’s adaptation of Marie Antoinette at the Steppenwolf Theatre, audience members get a closer look into the life of this French monarch as we are transported to the Palace of Versailles. To smoothly transition the narrative to today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, the play features a highly modern appeal. In this flashy spectacle, Marie parades around the stage to the sounds of techno Europop. She dons sparkling jewels and changes into elaborate gowns right before the audience. She even has quite the variety of wigs that fit each of the transitioning scenes. With all of the opulence paraded on stage, one can see that she is transitioning quite well into royalty.
However, I do have a slight confession. Prior to this play, I knew very little about Marie Antoinette. In my History classes, we kind of brushed over her as this pompous superficial queen. In the present day, she is the only queen that is now immortalized as a sexy Halloween costume. With that being said, those were my current recollections of Marie Antoinette. Those representations further demean her existence and reveals how little we think of her as a person. I can assure you that Queen Elizabeth has not been made into a sexy costume or brushed over in your history classes.
In Adjmi’s adaptation, we see a young Marie played by Alana Arenas. She is married to the neurotic clock obsessed King Louis. As the play progresses, the layers of glamour begin to shed as we get a glimpse into a more relatable side of the Queen. Many of the assumptions that I myself have made about Marie were soon discarded.
A hugely important aspect that we tend to forget about Marie is how young she was when she took the throne. I learned that she was only 15 years old when she became the Dauphine of France. At 15 years old, I thought it was perfectly acceptable to wear a Bow Wow t-shirt with my hair half braided half down, in my high school freshman year, yearbook photo. I still cringe at the thought that over 1000 of my peers having access to this photo. Making such horrid decisions like that, I can assure you that I was not fit to be a queen at 15 years old.
Putting this in perspective to what we know about Marie, could we be really that surprised that a young 15-year-old girl may not know what’s best for an entire country? During the play, we learn that neither her or Louis were equipped to run a country. It appeared as if each decision lead to a domino effect of chaos. Mind you she was still a young teen while having the lives of many in her hands. At 15, one is still very much in the process of forming their identity and Marie did not have the opportunity to do that. We’ve seen it with former Disney stars. It’s simply a case of too much too soon.
Marie became a spectacle with her every move being watched and criticised. Today a celebrity can be hot one moment; and a nuisance the next moment. Remember when everyone was “Keeping up with the Kardashians” and now they are arguably the most despised family as the ratings continue to plummet.
David Adjmi’s Marie Antoinette awakened my curiosity to learn more about the infamous Marie Antoinette. I think to pay her life an ounce of respect we shouldn’t think of her as the sexy Halloween costume or the woman who would say “Let them eat cake” She was already dismembered in the most heinous way possible without receiving a proper burial. One can only imagine how she would be treated today. I guess it’s safe to say at least she wouldn’t be beheaded.
The play itself was phenomenal and I enjoyed every moment from start to finish. I highly recommend Steppenwolf Theatre’s Marie Antoinette if you want to get an exciting and intriguing look into one of French history’s most controversial figures. Perhaps it’ll even cause you to be little more aware of your own involvement in our celebrity-obsessed culture. Marie Antoinette is showing now till May 10th.