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.