We left out a crucial chapter in our post on Madame Tussaud because it is amply covered in Jody Christopherson’s new piece Tussaud/Antoinette, which we treat of now. If that title reminds you of Marat/Sade, then you are clued into the period we mean. Her tagline “A Tale of Two Maries” , referencing Dickens, also tips us off that this will not be a rosy picture of the French Revolution, but one steeped in gore.
I find Christopherson’s neo-Gothic sensibility to die for (pun intended). I loved her witchin’-bitchin’ A Journey to St. Kilda (2018) so much I went to see it twice; her AMP: The Electrifying Story of Mary Shelley (2020) was one of the last things I saw before the Covid lockdown. As in the previous two pieces, in Tussaud/Antoinette she mixes fact and fantasy together like vinegar and baking soda and gives it a good shake.
Here, we get a glimpse of the young wax artiste invited to Versailles where she interacts with Marie Antoinette and her sister-in-law Madame Élisabeth, where she is paid large sums to teach the latter her art. But the Revolution is slowly coming to life. Connection to the Royals makes audiences fall off at the gallery. Then, as things turn ugly, at one point she only narrowly escapes the scaffold herself — like the Queen, she is regarded as a decadent ornament and instrument of a tyrannical state. Later she is forced to make death masks and body casts of decapitated leaders. I loved the moment captured in the photo above (by Kacey Anisa). Is it hot wax on her apron and hands? Blood? Both? Human heads in the burlap sacks? Wax ones? Step by step, she takes us through the minefield of the Terror…a time when real life became more gruesome than her own Chamber of Horrors. The eerie effect is enhanced by the flickering faux candlelight (by Kate August), which just as in a wax gallery, seem to give movement to the still objects around her. Creepy.
Another dual effect of Tussaud/Antoinette is that it will put you in a Halloween spirit…but it may (and should) make you contemplate with disquiet the seething, roiling fabric of our country right now, with both right and left seemingly liable to break out into violence in the near future to an extent that will make the previous few years look paltry. That is the lesson of history. Several times in the piece, Tussaud tell us that her gallery exists to teach history — reminding me simultaneously of the same words coming out of some people’s mouths with reference to Confederate statues…and the danger of the LACK of history in our present pop culture…including the present New York iteration of Madame Tussaud’s.
Tussaud/Antoinette plays through October 17, with Jody Christopherson alternating with her assistant director and sound designer Kodi Lynn Milburn in the main role. (The sound design is amazing, too, by the way). Tickets and info here.