Only three characters inhabit “Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh,” but this impeccably acted play at the 45th Street Theater has the sweep of a historical novel. The history in this case is the French Revolution: its real events swirl outside, while inside at Versailles, emotions swirl just as vigorously around a triangle of love and friendship imagined by the playwright, Joel Gross.
This is no run-of-the-mill triangle. It includes Marie Antoinette (Amanda Jones) and the real portraitist who painted her and became her friend, Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (Samantha Ives). In Mr. Gross’s inventive tale, both fall for a rakish count named Alexis (Jonathan Kells Phillips), who, when the play begins in 1774, is emerging as an aristocratic advocate for the masses. By the time it ends in 1793, just before Antoinette meets the guillotine, he, like many modern-day upper-class idealists, has found that there is a huge gulf between populist pronouncements and rugged reality.Photo From left, Samantha Ives, Amanda Jones and Jonathan Kells Phillips. Credit Nicole Szalewski/Earl Productions
Mr. Gross manages to explore issues of class, many of them sounding quite contemporary, while creating a touching story of love and mutual support. If the play is a few beats too long and the politics occasionally preachy, the three actors are never less than enthralling. Mr. Phillips is first charming, then arresting: his transformation after he has spent a few years putting his theories into practice by fighting in the American Revolution is admirable.
Ms. Ives and Ms. Jones are perfectly believable in their own transformations. Ms. Jones in particular makes a long journey, beginning at naïveté — her reaction to her first sexual experience, courtesy of her oafish husband, the king, is hilarious — and ending in a stark wisdom.
“If you listen closely, you can hear the whole country whispering,” she says as the storm clouds gather around her. “Like crickets. Like locusts beating their wings.”Continue reading the main story
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