When David Adjmi walked into the room at our interview earlier this month he was beaming. First of all, his script has its roots in a 2006 trip to an artists’ colony so surely seeing its world premiere at the American Repertory Theater is a monumental event in his storied career. The young playwright delves into the life of famed Queen Marie Antoinette while also illuminating current and historical societal inequality. But in tackling such controversial content he also paints the picture of trapped ingenue molded by her society as a frivolous blemish on France’s state of affairs — one which you can’t help but feel sympathetic for. If Adjmi’s interpretation of this royal lass strays from the actualities of her life, then we don’t care! Cussing, dancing, and self-realizing are perfect for our version of Marie’s legend.
My name is David Adjmi and I’m a playwright.
Why are you attracted to Marie Antoinette, the individual?
I’m attracted to Marie Antoinette as an individual because I think she’s incredibly fascinating. She’s a welter of contradictions, she’s really really funny, she’s really smart and she’s also kind of stupid. I mean the way I see it is she’s a little bit of a valley girl, and she’s a little bit of a queen, and she’s a little bit of a ditz. She’s kind of selfish, she’s kind of narcissistic. So she’s got all these amazing contradictions. By the end of the play she really opens up into real self-understanding so I find that amazing.
Where do you do your best creative work?
I do my best creative work actually anywhere I can find the time or space to do it. This play was written in an artist colony called the MacDowell Colony up in New Hampshire and I love it there. I’ve been there four times.
What is your pre-show ritual?
My pre-show ritual…I think it’s just pace around a lot.
Favorite kind of cake?
I don’t like buttercream that much. I like a lot of lemon curd, and I don’t like chocolate so, I think it would have to be something with lemon curd in it and maybe some berries.
Paris or Versailles?
Oh my god, Paris.
Tell us about the sheep in the production.
The sheep in the production…I can’t really say. It’s a secret. You’ll have to see the show.
What is your favorite one liner from the play?
I love Marie’s line early on in the play when she says, “I feel like a game that other people play but without me.”
The French tabloids went wild for her, right?
France had an incredibly veracious tabloid obsession with Marie Antoinette. I think part of the reason for that was because it was demanded of her. She was the Queen and she really didn’t have any other agency except to perform this kind of crazy theater of her life. People watched her dress, and undress. They watched her eat her meals. I mean, it was demanded of her as a Queen, so that became her currency in France. In a way, she was the first female ingénue celebrity in the cult of Madonna.
What do you hope the audience takes away from the show?
There’s really not one take away from the show. I write plays that have an enormous amount of ambiguity. But I feel like this play is really looking at this woman who was 14 years old, she was basically married off as part of a political alliance, she was stripped of everything Austrian because she came from Austria, and put on all these French clothes and became a French Queen and had no idea what she was doing. She was completely ill equipped for it, and then encountered all of this crazy political resistance and was eventually killed for it. So the question I think the play is looking at is, “how can you really be a leader, if you don’t actually have a developed self?” And then, in terms of America looking at democracy, how can we have a democracy where we’re sharing all of this responsibility for leadership if we don’t actually know who we are and we’re living life filled with these crazy tabloid diversions.
What parallels do you see between then and now?
I think there are crazy parallels between 18th century France and now. The parallels that exist have existed through. Like the disparity in wealth and in resources, and the kind of obsession with celebrity when things are kind of falling apart economically. That’s not something that’s just exclusive to 18th century France or to America now. It’s kind of something that repeats throughout history. I’m just curious to know and the play is curious in looking at why people are focused so much on these distractions when things are so bad.
Images courtesy of the A.R.T.