Review: Story Theatre is Fire Hot in Debut Production, Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes

Almost everything that is written about the times we live in uses words like troubled, divided, and unprecedented. Various adjectives used by the media are rehashed, and do not get down to the guts of human behavior in every era. Story Theatre is a new company that makes its debut with the brilliant and fire hot Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes. This is a new play written and directed by Chicago playwright Terry Guest. It’s the story of Black revolutions and uprising throughout the centuries and the aftermath of “winning.” Do we play the game the same way as those conquered or overthrown?

This play is also a searing look at power and those who claim it as being given by God. The phrase “this is not history” adorns the set and the phrase is repeated several times. History is not always something that happened in the past, and it cannot be history if it is happening in the same way with different people throughout time. 18th century France is a touchpoint and Versailles is a stand in for Haiti, for 1992 Los Angeles, 2014 Ferguson, and 2020 Minneapolis. These are places where Black lives were taken in such a manner that social revolution erupted against the ruling classes.

Keith Illidge, Nathaniel Andrew, Danyelle Monson, Brenna DiStasio, and Amber Washington.
Photo by David Hagen.

Marie Antoinette is the central character around whom Black revolutions are formed throughout the centuries. Brenna DiStasio gives a bravura performance as Marie Antoinette. The unfortunate queen was a princess from Austria and was raised without even having to dress herself. DiStasio is hilarious as an immature and materialistic woman who knows only wealth and luxury. Marie Antoinette would be akin to a certain set of sisters whose names all begin with K. As Marie’s life in more in danger, DiStasio is riveting as a terrified woman willing to do anything to save her children and herself.

The Black characters in Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes are given names that are stereotypes and considered epithets. Mammy (Amber Washington) is a magical Negro who can be depended upon to keep the household in order. Mammy imparts folksy wisdom to White folks who are so educated and privileged that they would of course overlook the baser things. Mammy could be depended upon to tell people what they want to hear to get things the way she wants them.

Keith Illidge, Amber Washington, Maya Vinice Prentiss, Danyelle Monson, Nathaniel Andrew.
Photo by David Hagen.

Maya Vinice Prentiss plays Sambo who represents the wily magical Negro. Prentiss gives a fire performance as a revolutionary who is smarter than the oppressors know. How else would Sambo outsmart a tiger and turn it into butter? Danyelle Monson is Sapphire—the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman who can get away with being a domineering shrew to White people. Monson’s Sapphire turns the stereotype on its head. Keith Illidge who shone in House Theatre’s The Tragedy of King Cristophe plays Jim Crow. Illidge puts the character of a bumbling minstrel through a prism. He plays JFK giving a speech to appease Negro voters and appear to be an advocate. Other political aphorisms are lampooned as they meant very little to Black people.

Nathaniel Andrew plays Savage, which is how Blacks were/are seen whether male or female. One aspect of the Savage is a tabloid journalist who puts the rumors out about Marie as a lesbian, thief, and dilettante. Andrew does a stellar job of reporter as “personality,” gleefully smearing the elites. David Stobbe gives a great performance as King Louis XVI. The unfortunate monarch was considered a spoiled simpleton who was unable to consummate his marriage. He is pictured in a small room most of the time dressed flamboyantly and playing with toy figures as bombs explode. Stobbe is funny and then somber as the doomed and imprisoned king.

Brenna DiStasio and David Stobbe. Photo by David Hagen.

This play has perfect pacing with trap music interspersed in the action. Trap is considered angry and confrontational music about claiming power and not being afraid of the enemy or those in power. The ensemble is beautifully and meticulously choreographed by Ayanna Bria Bakara. The scenic design is on point and serves the characters well. There are store window vignettes on the sides and a center curtain that serves as a projection surface for shadow puppet executions of the king and queen. This is a brilliant debut that uses comedy to give meaning to the absurdity of any ruling class. Even in a democracy such as the U.S., there is a power class that mirrors the 18th century. After revolution there was the pomposity of Napoleon Bonaparte who eventually fell because of greed and hubris. I highly recommend Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes. It will make you question the politics of power throughout history and whether there is ever any true change to power structures.

Marie Antoinette and the Magical Negroes has been extended and runs Thursdays through Sundays until July 24 at Raven Theatre’s Schwartz Stage, 6157 N. Clark. The show is 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $20 and $10 for students, active military, and veterans. For more information, please visit www.thestorytheatre.org. Covid protocols are in place. It has taken the Story Theatre almost four years to get this play on stage, so let them know you appreciate it. Bring your vaccine card and wear a mask. Keep everyone safe and we will hope the play’s run will be extended so more people can see it. It is that good.

For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.