PORTLAND — Historic perceptions of Marie Antoinette more often than not paint the French queen as a frivolous woman, void of emotion toward the struggles of her people.
Falmouth-born actress Caroline Hewitt and the rest of the cast of “Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh” are trying to paint a more sympathetic picture of Antoinette at Portland Stage Company.
“I think it’s an interesting perspective about Marie Antoinette,” Hewitt said last week, as the cast was wrapping up rehearsals. “You think you know someone from history and then you realize you don’t at all. Parts of it are true and parts of it are fictional.”
Hewitt, 29, graduated from Falmouth High School and studied acting at Vassar College and The American Conservatory Theater. She now lives and works in New York City and came back to Maine to bring real-life artist Marie Louise Elisabeth Vigee, known as “Elisa,” to life.
Hewitt is not the only Maine-born actor to come back to Maine to work with Portland Stage. According to Carole Harris, marketing and public relations director for Portland Stage, many Maine actors join the company each season.
“It really depends on the needs of production and the demands of the role,” she said. “We are constantly looking for the best talent and there is a lot of great talent out there that has come from Maine, is now living in Maine or is living elsewhere and has come back.”
Hewitt, Harris said, auditioned her in New York and the company didn’t realize she was a Mainer until later.
Hewitt said she came back to work in Portland because of the fond memories she has of going to Portland Stage to see student matinees when she was in high school.
“At that point I sort of had an inkling that I wanted to be an actor, so it was super exciting to see these amazing productions,” she said. “When I got cast in this it really felt really exciting to literally be on that stage, where I had once so admired the actors.”
Hewitt’s character was born in France in 1775 and rose from poverty to become a friend and favorted painter to Antoinette. In the play, Elisa uses her relationship with Count Alexis de Ligne to become close to the queen, earning her friendship.
“It’s tricky because it’s kind of like, where does the friendship come in and the ambition, negotiating with that,” Hewitt said.
Plays like “Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh” offer characters that Hewitt said she especially loves to play. She said she enjoys getting the chance to lose herself in a character.
“The parts that I love to play are the ones where I’m completely immersed in the world and in the character, so much so that I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a moment or a line,” she said. “In this play it would be sort of hard not to be consumed because the world is so specific, the language is so specific and the parts are so huge.”
“I think that Elisa battles with herself in the way that we all do, in the way that I know I do,” she continued. “In terms of exploding with anger or passion or being frustrated or lying about things and it feels much more ripe in that way than some other roles that I have played and I relate to that because none of user are just one thing and its nice to have a character that has so many complexities; a sort of fraught character.”
Hewitt shares the stage with actors Ellen Adair (Marie Antoinette) and Tony Roach (Count Alexis de Ligne). She said the play, based on a love triangle between her character, the Count and Marie, will get the audience to think and respond emotionally.
“I love plays that have an intellectual and thoughtful side and also a really strong emotional life; I think that, ideally, all plays should,” she said. “And I think that this play is so strong with both of those that he audience will respond really well. They’re gonna feel things and their gonna think about things, which is always good.”
Falmouth native Caroline Hewitt portrays artist Elisa in Portland Stage Company’s production of “Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh.”
“Marie Antoinette: The Color of Flesh” opens Friday, May 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Portland Stage Company, 25A Forest Ave., Portland. Performances continue through May 20.