Mar 24, 2019
by Alexa Chipman
“Crisis demands art” cries Olympe de Gouges, an 18th century playwright and focus of ‘The Revolutionists.’ As she faces execution, clutching the platform railing as a lifeline, she gazes out at the assembled audience, fear and willful courage mingling in her eyes. This metaplay takes place in that drawn-out moment, while she processes the horror through a comfortable world of imagination.Doug Faxon’s realistic sound design of jeering mobs is phenomenal and adds to the sense of visceral danger that permeates this story.
Created by local writer Lauren Gunderson, a quartet of formidable women step forward to form an unlikely sisterhood, becoming the voices that Olympe needs in her hour of crisis. Their actual words are incorporated into the dialogue, such as Marie Antoinette’s furious outburst in defense of her children and the famous quote “there is nothing new except what has been forgotten”which has often been attributed to her. Gunderson infuses contemporary language, which makes it easier to feel the womens’ suffering and triumphs.
Despite a guillotine looming over the set, slamming down with chilling finality, ‘The Revolutionists’ is filled with dark comedy and sardonic humor. Lydia Revelos as Marie Antoinette is priceless, with a frivolously mincing walk, constant snacking on croissants, and innocently honest remarks, like “where are we headed, and why is it not a beach?” Glimpses into her vulnerable, human side shine through a self-absorbed aura of silliness.
On the opposite spectrum is Chandler Parrott-Thomas as Charlotte Corday. Furious that nothing seems to be getting done, her young, impulsive passion railroads through any opposition. She wants change and wants it now. Her single-minded mission adds energetic momentum to an otherwise stagnant intellectual brainstorming session, keeping the play moving. Kate Graham’s costume design for Charlotte is magnificent, with fiery revolution red and an action heroine leather baldric.
Created specifically for this story, rather than drawn from history, Marianne Angelle (Serena Elize Flores) represents the Haitian Revolution, and acts as a confidant to Olympe, willing to challenge the playwright’s failings. Intensely focused, she keeps her friend on task, batting away attempts to include a puppet show, and reminding Olympe that her true duty is to support women who are willing to stand up for what they believe. Elize Flores is riveting in the second act, when her character faces personal tragedy with brutal honesty.
The emotionally draining, mesmerizing performance by Tara Howley Hudson as Olympe de Gouges shows a woman who is terrified of the end, desperately wanting to run away and outlive the conflict, but equally eager to be persuaded that she is wrong. The women who appear in her dreamlike world hold her up, enabling Olympe to solidify her inner strength when facingMadame la Guillotine.
‘The Revolutionists’ is experimental theater and may not be for everyone. It is self-consciously clever at times, and occasionally forced, but when the writing relaxes into a natural cadence, the virtuosity of this ensemble is truly moving.
The director, Lennie Dean, has given these women life, and hopes that the audience will “feel inspired” by their stories. Her wish has come true; it is easy to leave the theater with a sense of hope and determination after this extraordinary glimpse of the women who shaped the French Revolution.
Presented by 6th Street Playhouse through April 7, 2019
Thurs/Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sat at 2:00pm and 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $25-28 general, $23-26 senior, $18 under 30
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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