Meet the Rogue

Live theater. Unsolicited commentary.
From Detroit to Lansing.

Carolyn Hayes is the Rogue Critic, est. late 2009.

In 2011, the Rogue attended 155 plays, readings, and festivals (about 3 per week) and penned 115 reviews (about 2.2 per week).

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Theaters and Companies

The Abreact (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2011 SIR

The AKT Theatre Project (Wyandotte)
website | reviews

Blackbird Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Detroit Repertory Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

The Encore Musical Theatre Co. (Dexter)
website | reviews

Go Comedy! (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Hilberry Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Jewish Ensemble Theatre (West Bloomfield)
website | reviews

Magenta Giraffe Theatre Co. (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Matrix Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Meadow Brook Theatre (Rochester)
website | reviews

Performance Network Theatre (Ann Arbor)
website | reviews

Planet Ant Theatre (Hamtramck)
website | reviews

Plowshares Theatre (Detroit)
website | reviews

Purple Rose Theatre Co. (Chelsea)
website | reviews

The Ringwald Theatre (Ferndale)
website | reviews

Tipping Point Theatre (Northville)
website | reviews | 2010 SIR

Threefold Productions (Ypsilanti)
website | reviews

Two Muses Theatre (West Bloomfield Township)
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Williamston Theatre (Williamston)
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Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh

Everything old is new again: it’s trite, but true. Playwright Joel Gross draws evident parallels between now and two centuries ago in his Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh, but the production at Performance Network Theatre doesn’t feel like a solely or overwhelmingly political play. As directed by Shannon Ferrante, this drama is reduced to an empathetic trio whose complex class, political, and personal associations make for unavoidably difficult love and friendship, long before Facebook coined “It’s Complicated.”

Spanning nearly two decades from the beginning of the maligned queen’s reign to the brutal end of her life, this fact-influenced but imagined history finds a framework in Elisa (Jill Dion), a portrait artist and social climber who angles for a commission by Marie Antoinette (Chelsea Sadler) and becomes the monarch’s friend and closest confidante. Portraiture accordingly becomes the marker of the years, with a handful of reproductions fashioned by scenic and properties designer Monika Essen. With scenes in at least a dozen locations in Versailles, Paris, and elsewhere, Essen’s vision is somehow both Spartan and opulent, avoiding outright lavishness in favor of sparse ornate details. A massively tall setup of delicate folding French doors gives way to a painted floral backdrop, lushly predating Monet’s watercolors and serving as a willing palette for Daniel C. Walker’s dazzling lighting design, which plays with dusk and silhouette to marvelous effect. Period chamber music is provided by sound designer Phil Powers, who notes in the program that one of the pieces used is a composition by the real-life Marie Antoinette — one of many suggestions in this show that the “Let them eat cake” historical figure we know is not a complete or accurate picture.

The agent of the women’s introduction is Alexis (Drew Parker), a playboy count and self-hating aristocrat who loudly trumpets the cause of the lower class, despite having never met one among its ranks. The twining, desperate story of these three individuals is a personal one that nevertheless cannot extricate itself from surrounding politics: working-class Elisa’s star rises, even as Alexis’s birthright is taken away in the revolution and the queen’s well-known disfavor marches her toward infamy. These class divisions further complicate the emotional lives of the characters, as Alexis obediently succumbs to his queen’s love for him, all the while obscuring his other passions and one major, enduring betrayal.

In this telling, Marie Antoinette is not a frivolous perpetual debutante, but a lonely child with no control over her life decisions grown into an unhappy woman whose adopted country hates her. Sadler’s charming portrayal is comprehending, but not merely helpless; her perfect blend of stately control and discontented search for connection makes it clear how both Elisa and Alexis can relate to her, even as they must defer to her. Dion is a self-made marvel as Elisa, asserting herself defiantly, yet respectfully, in a manner that lets her befriend people well above her station, and Parker’s Alexis fits in everywhere but belongs nowhere, believably leading to his ruin when the people he championed turn on his kind and make no exception for him. That a play with three characters forms a triangle is used to Gross’s best advantage, and the performers work exceptionally well together in every combination; it’s fascinating to see how the duos interact in light of their separate connections with the third party, especially as Elisa and Alexis’s relationship continues to be colored by their personal devotion to the queen.

In two acts running just over two hours, the play’s nineteen years fly by with the aid of Essen’s costume design, evolving Marie Antoinette from cherubic young queen to middle-aged target of collective schadenfreude before the viewer realizes it’s happened. Even so, Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh progresses apace, in a production that moves fast, dives into social and political influences, and reexamines the legacy of a historical figure, yet none of these overwhelms the primary story of friendship, love, and allegiance among three dynamic people. This is a fine treatment of a densely packed script, a play that operates on many levels at once and does justice to them all.

Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh is no longer playing.
For the latest from Performance Network Theatre, click here.