Milwaukee-based actress/playwright Cara Johnston graces the internet this month with a sharply clever, little dramatic historical comedy. The Little Glass Slipper as Performed by the Queen of France and Her Friends imagines a quaint, little production of a classic fairy tale with an ominous background. Marie Antoinette plays Cinderella in a production staged in her own, personal theatre on July 14th of 1789. (This turned out to be kind of a big day in history.) Johnston puts together an ingeniously intricate, little comedic drama with dizzying thematic balance. Johnston also directed the piece, which was shot on July 14th of 2021. (Oh...and she also plays Marie Antoinette...and did some set painting...)
The premise has some basis in history. Marie Antoinette was a great lover of the theatre and even had a performance space built on which she would, in fact, perform. She evidently loved playing people who weren’t queen. And I mean...these were characters who REALLY weren’t queen: farmer’s wives and soubrettes and things like that. And she would play alongside her royal friends with her own servants in the audience diligently (and perhaps nervously) playing along in the role of the claque. (It's true. Take a look at Muriel Zagha's “Drama queen: a peek inside Marie Antoinette’s private theatre,” Apollo ) So there’s actual history here that’s fascinating. Johnston’s decision to have herself play Marie Antoinette playing Cinderella on the day of the storming of the Bastille is kind of a brilliant one thematically. In light of growing inequities between the wealthy and the poor in the contemporary world, this is a particularly fun angle on the show.
Johnston is delightfully awkward in the role of a queen who is quite oblivious about the nature of her own privilege. Johnston’s work is deeply comic on a variety of levels...many of which have to do with the cluelessness of the ruling class. There’s greater depth in it all, though. Marie’s desire to escape the pressures of queendom find her fantasizing about being a servant girl as all around her disintegrates. A would-be assassin even finds himself thrust into a role onstage. Knowing full well that they’re doomed, a number of Marie’s fellow cast members abandon the show mid-performance. Cinderella ascends to royalty as the woman playing her descends into a darkness that will inevitably see her executed. It’s impressively well-balanced and poignant.
Local actresses Alicia Rice and Jennifer Vosters play with opposing energies in the heart of the cast. Rice is warm and sympathetic well-meaning Princess onstage with Marie who is genuinely concerned for her wellbeing. Vosters is comically cold as the naturally talented Duchess in the cast who is far more concerned for her own survival. It’ a nice contrast that rests at the center of a tight, little ensemble.
The Little Glass Slipper is a very, very intimate production, but there’s a delicious feeling of excess about it as it was shot on the stage of a rather nice theatre in Texas. Production design by Cara’s sister Courtney Miles includes sumptuous costuming by Jerry Miles. Jun Kang did an excellent job of shooting and editing the production. I didn’t see any one specifically credited for the lighting, but it’s gorgeous. The visual reality of the ruling class fumbling on its way to the guillotine is absolutely stunning in a fun, little one-hour comedic drama.
The Miles Sisters’ production of Cara Johnston’s Little Glass Slipper is available online from two different outlets:
--the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is hosting it online for free, but there IS a registration fee of a little more than £1. They’re hosting it through Aug. 30.
--the Milwaukee Fringe Festival is also hosting the show online. Tickets are $15. They carry the show through Aug. 28.