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David Adjmi (#110 of 3)

Review: Marie Antoinette at Soho Rep

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Review: <em>Marie Antoinette</em> at Soho Rep
Review: <em>Marie Antoinette</em> at Soho Rep

In David Adjmi’s satirical Marie Antoinette, the titular royal doesn’t start using her head until she’s in danger of losing it. At first, without any desire to get a grip on reality, she’s presented broadly as a Real House Queen of Versailles. With valley-girl inflections and a grating mean-girl mien, the so-called Madame Deficit is only vaguely aware of the peasants’ rising anger and utterly clueless as to what to do: “The people aren’t happy. Or…I don’t know what they are. Maybe they are starving.” But she doesn’t follow through on this, or any, line of thought. Instead, she lets herself eat cake.

In a sly wink at the quote that’s poisoned her reputation for centuries, Marie (a formidable Marin Ireland) and her ladies-in-waiting (Jennifer Ikeda and Marsha Stephanie Blake) grab mouth-watering, brightly colored macaroons from towering mounds that stand beside them. When Ikeda’s Yolande, with her mouth full, admits she denies “junk food” like this to her children out of concern for their health, Ireland addle-pated monarch answers, “Aww, let them eat cake.” It’s an easy laugh, like many in the play’s early going, but Adjmi soon rewards audience members who’ve done their research by including a riff on the writer who actually coined the famous line, France’s literary lion Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Marie’s never heard of him: “Intellectuals, bleh. You know what I love? Mops!” She means the mop-topped poodles she keeps by the hundreds. Before we lose patience with the queen-as-ditz approach, Adjmi, Ireland, and director Rebecca Taichman direct our focus where the queen refuses to tread: on the life of her mind.

Dystopian Days of Disco: David Adjmi’s 3C

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Dystopian Days of Disco: David Adjmi’s <em>3C</em>
Dystopian Days of Disco: David Adjmi’s <em>3C</em>

Some playwrights can both bruise and massage your soul, and if Edward Albee and Harold Pinter lead the category of writers whose whipcracking vigor can feel punishing at times, David Adjmi, whose play 3C is currently on view at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, also belongs to that group. His mixing of realism and absurdity evokes Albee, but kicked into a higher gear, where moods and emotions swerve wildly. Adjmi keeps his audience on its toes by constantly demonstrating how hysterical laughter can signal trauma, and cool civility hide cruel bigotry.

Adjmi’s last play, Elective Affinities, was a one-woman show staged inside a parlor of an Upper East Side mansion. Interviewed by The House Next Door, Adjmi said he was attracted to the play’s character, Alice Hauptmann, because she was an outsider, even though, with her WASP background, she didn’t seem like one. Appearances were also important to Adjmi’s first play, Stunning, about whose characters he said in The New York Times: “They try to create this hard wall of surface to suffice for their wounds—personal wounds, cultural wounds, historical wounds.”

Exorcising the Dark Side: Playwright David Adjmi Talks Elective Affinities

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Exorcising the Dark Side: Playwright David Adjmi Talks Elective Affinities
Exorcising the Dark Side: Playwright David Adjmi Talks Elective Affinities

When a trio of edgy, downtown theater producing companies—Soho Rep, piece by piece productions, and Rising Phoenix Repertory—invite audiences to a tea party in an Upper East Side mansion, there must be something subversive afoot. One of this season’s hottest tickets is a site-specific theater piece entitled Elective Affinities. You take your seat in the parlor of a townhouse which doubles as the richly decorated living room of a well-heeled socialite, the rather grand Mrs. Alice Hauptman, played to the hilt by Tony-winning actress Zoe Caldwell. Caldwell regales her “guests” (30 theatergoers each night) with a witty and entertaining stream of consciousness. Soon enough, Alice’s oh-so-genteel soiree veers into perverse moral territory, leaving you wondering if indeed the choice to bestow love on select people in our lives, demands that we hate the others that don’t share our perspective. The author of this hour-long monologue is 38-year-old Brooklyn-born playwright David Adjmi, who first made his name in New York in 2009 with Stunning, a satirical tragedy drawn from his own Syrian-Jewish roots. We talked recently with Adjmi about his work: