People, Politics, and Paint

Two quiet new plays harbor sparks of passion

Flashing forward in increments of four months or six years, Vigée-Lebrun, Alexis, and Marie Antoinette come to know and love one another deeply. Though their stories are informed by history, Gross' style remains resolutely personal rather than historic, and it's given traction by meltingly subtle, human portraits from Caldwell's actors, the women in particular. Jones is there, in Antoinette's skin, acting all of the Dauphiné's many roles from the inside out: reluctant lover, well-meaning but disinterested politician, frustrated wife, devoted mother. When Jones incarnates these personas, she doesn't don them like masks but emanates them from some secret self that is full of sympathy for the doomed Antoinette. Until she is imprisoned, she never truly grows up; watching her commingled sadness and bravery as public opinion turns against her is to see a young woman wrestling with a fate for which she has had no preparation. The world is coming down on her, and for a few moments, Jones seems able to measure its weight in the set of her mouth and the cast of her eyes.

As Vigée-Lebrun, Theriault is, if anything, even stronger. She deals with much the same conundrum, though with lesser stakes. She is an artist who has set out to paint the nobility in people, and to that end, she has sought out people who are noble. With the very concept of nobility in retreat — about to be subsumed by the angry rabble, which from her post at the periphery of privilege looks every bit as mindless and cruel as it must have appeared to Louis XVI as he was led to the guillotine — her entire concept of value has been upended. This means more to her than it does to Antoinette, who was born to value nobility. Vigée-Lebrun had to learn it, to rationalize it — and just as Jones' turmoil is the uncomprehending turmoil of set-upon innocence, Theriault's belongs to a thinking woman. Even as she reflects this, she retains her grip on the quick-mindedness of the devoted social climber who rose from the mob to become best friends with a queen and who soon must find another place to alight.

Free and serious, even in the 18th century
PHOTO COURTESY SIGVISION
Free and serious, even in the 18th century

Details

Two Sisters and a Piano Written by Nilo Cruz. Directed by Margaret M. Ledford. With Ursula Cataan, Mathew Chapman, Deborah Sherman, and Ricky Waugh. Presented through Saturday at the Promethean Theatre, Nova Southeastern University, 33301 College Ave., Davie. Call 786-317-7580, or visit www.theprometheantheatre.org. Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh Written by Joel Gross. Directed by Michael Hall. With Jason Griffith and Janine Theriault. Presented through March 30 at the Caldwell Theatre Company's Count de Hoernle Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Hwy., Boca Raton. Call 877-245-7432, or visit www.caldwelltheatre.org.

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This is a lot to show on a face or in a voice, but she does it, and she never cracks for a second. If there is a single valuable thing to be learned in a historical drama, it is that the past is populated with people who were every bit as free and serious as we fancy ourselves. Nobody demonstrates that better than Janine Theriault is demonstrating it right now.

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