Powdered Wigs and Talking Sheep :: David Greenspan on ’Marie Antoinette’
Given the economic landscape of the times, any play about Marie Antoinette is bound to feel like a comment on the disparity between rich and poor and the growing perception that the haves are ever more callous toward the have-nots.
But David Adjmi’s play "Marie Antoinette," which debuted its world premiere run Sept. 1 at the American Repertory Theatre and continues until Sept. 29, is also about the power of dreams and imagination. Surreal and funny, Adjmi’s new play isn’t history so much as hallucinatory recollection. His Marie isn’t malicious so much as out of touch; as for being provocative, she simply can’t help it. She’s a foreigner (from Austria), and that in itself makes her a target for vicious smear campaigns. Otherwise, Marie in and of herself is secondary to Marie as a symbol: The fact that she’s queen, and lives in queenly style, makes her a focus of revolutionary fervor.
In Adjmi’s script, Marie almost drifts from the pinnacle of power to condemned prisoner. Along the way, she engages in sometimes bawdy, often anachronistic conversations... at one point, with a talking sheep, played (and puppeteered) by New York-based actor David Greenspan.
The Obie-Award winning Greenspan is a writer as well an actor. He co-authored a musical stage version of Neil Gaiman’s novel "Coraline," played nimbly with gender and identity in "She Stoops to Comedy" (in which he played a cross-dressing lesbian), and tackled a very different historical setting in his one-man-show adaptation of a play from 1925, "The Patsy," by Barry Conners. ("The Patsy" also features a female character who finds herself set against the world around her.)
Greenspan chatted with EDGE recently about "Marie Antoinette," bringing his craft to Boston, and what it’s like to bring a sheep puppet to life.
EDGE:: As a playwright in your own respect, how do you respond to David Adjmi’s script for "Marie Antoinette," with its anachronistic, very casual, and very funny dialogue?
David Greenspan: It’s something I’m accustomed to in terms of plays taking on historical figures with a contemporary sensibility through language or ideas. I think David is a very imaginative, highly intelligent writer, and there certainly is a strong comedic tone to much of the play. But there is definitely a dark undercurrent that vibrates throughout, and that’s ultimately what overtakes the principal characters, and it becomes the dominant tone late in the play as events come to a head. But there is also a brilliant comedic aspect to the dialogue that’s very rewarding and funny, and very exciting.
EDGE: Is "Marie Antoinette" a reflection on the America of today--the so-called 1%, the Occupy Movement, etc.?
David Greenspan: The play takes place in a period of such intense political, social, and economic upheaval. I don’t know if it’s fully translatable to the current affairs in the United States or even globally; I’m not enough of a social scientist to know.
Also, I’ve done readings of this play over the last several years, before the current financial crisis was as bad as it is now. My sense is that "Marie Antoinette" was not written in response to that, unless David was already reflecting on the emerging economic problems in the United States.
EDGE: This play is not meant to be history, really; it’s extremely contemporary in form and in dialogue. Is the idea to make a statement about the dreamlike nature of recollection, and how we project our own imaginations and fantasies upon it?
David Greenspan: Sure. As you’re pointing out, there are surreal, highly imaginative elements in the play. The sheep is a good example of that.
Because of the way people speak, and particularly the way Marie Antoinette thinks, there is a contemporary sensibility. She is a well educated, though not particularly perceptive, woman born into a wealthy and powerful aristocratic elite. She is detached from the social and political and economic environment outside of her circle. She’s insensitive to what is going on around her. That [same description] could be applied to people in our own culture, people who are protected from certain economic realities.