Though the script occasionally suffers from clumsy exposition and heavy-handedness, it poses some thoughtful ideas, particularly the perennial question about the role and responsibility of art in the world. When he returns injured from America's war, Alexis takes sensualist Elisa to task for caring so deeply about beautiful surfaces, flowers, fabrics, and coiffures, when people are starving in the street: "What kind of artist," he demands, "sees nothing of the world?" By the end, she finds that her art has evolved in her ability to convey her prison-ravaged subject's interior nature in the painted skin. What she's begun to learn is empathy, the understanding of a person's inner complexities. It's something only learned up close, in not just palaces but prisons, in people of different walks and fates actually talking to each other. A little more of it, across the board, might have saved a few heads.

MARIE ANTOINETTE: THE COLOR OF FLESH | by Joel Gross | Directed by Daniel Burson | Produced by Portland Stage Company | through May 20 | 207.774.0465

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