On one wall of the set for Terry Guest’s Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes, now in a local premiere with Story Theatre under Guest’s direction, a large sign tells us “THIS IS NOT HISTORY.” True: what Guest’s skillfully rendered sardonic political comedy offers is a funhouse view (with not always so much fun, given the subject matter) of how oppression leads to resistance, and resistance can lead to bloodshed, and bloodshed can lead to freedom. Which in turn can only be maintained with constant vigilance and balancing of countervailing forces, lest the oppressed become the oppressors.
Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes
Through 7/24: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark, 773-338-2177, thestorytheatre.org, $20 ($10 students, active military, and veterans)
The main attraction in this carnival of carnage is, as the title indicates, the French Revolution. But the time-traveling band of Black players in Guest’s story (who are identified in the program with names indicative of racist stereotyping—Jim Crow, Mammy, Sapphire, Sambo, and Savage—also take us to the JFK assassination, the 1992 LA rebellion, and the Haitian revolution, which took place simultaneously with the unrest in France.
Brenna DiStasio’s Marie laments over her gilded-cage Versailles life that renders her what Maya Vinice Prentiss’s lady-in-waiting Charlotte (who soon joins the revolutionaries) calls “a symbol of a woman, more than a woman.” David Stobbe’s in-over-his-soon-to-be-removed-head Louis XVI reminisces about the glory days of his father’s reign. The servants and courtiers plot, negotiate, and turn on each other as well as the monarchs. A guest appearance by Ida B. Wells (Amber Washington) advocates the power of the pen to fight white supremacy, while Toussaint Louverture (Danyelle Monson) relishes describing the vengeance wreaked on colonizing slavers in Haiti.
It’s a smart, dizzying show that feels particularly urgent now. Guest and his ensemble (which also includes Keith Illidge and Nathaniel Andrew) negotiate the hairpin turns in tone from high farce to hushed sorrowful tragedy. Guest isn’t the first to write about the unintended perils of uprisings, but he and Story Theatre have found a fresh and compelling way to revisit the evergreen topic.