THE REVOLUTIONISTS – Written by Lauren Gunderson; Directed by Allison Watrous. Produced by Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (Dairy Center, 2590 Walnut) through October 8. Tickets available at 303-444-7328 or betc.org.
Think of it. A woman – Charlotte Corday (Maire Higgins) who believes wholeheartedly in the power of violence to change what’s wrong in the world. A woman – Marianne Angelle (Jada Suzanne Dixon) – who understands the role of violence but works for a negotiated revolution for her people. A third woman is a Queen by accident (her sisters got smallpox so she ended up marrying Louis when they couldn’t) – Marie Antoinette (Adrian Egolf) – who has embraced her role in the monarchy, no matter how ridiculous that seems to her. And, fourth, a playwright – Olympe de Gouges (Rebecca Remaly) – who is trying to save the world by making art out of their lives and times.
Olympe honestly believes if she can find the right words, she will be able to put everything into perspective so that everyone will see how foolish this bloody revolution is and make it stop. Charlotte, on the other hand, wants to make her mark in history by murdering Jean-Paul Marat, the noted political journalist whom she blames for the September Massacre of political prisoners. Being remembered as the woman who did it is as important to her as actually doing it. As a woman far from home with much to lose, Marianne gives a face to the struggle for freedom for the inhabitants of the island nation of Saint Dominque (now Haiti). Marie is a queen whose circumstances have given her a very specific but realistic point of view about her place in the world. All four have been maneuvered into their present positions of peril during the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution by the unseen men in their lives.
The women use Olympe’s quarters as a sanctuary and a hiding place. The three early arrivals have mixed reactions to the arrival of Marie Antoinette. She is after all the Queen. But Marie’s self awareness and humorous take on the Revolution wins their confidence and friendship. They try to talk Charlotte out of killing Marat for her own safety but she argues that “steak knife pretty much always beats naked-guy-in-a bath.” Marie, while generally flighty and self-absorbed, solemnly comments to Marianne that “I fear we shall not know the rightness of our revolutions nor the heroes of our stories for generations to come.” When Marianne acknowledges the wisdom of her statement, Marie brushes it off with, “Unexpectedly profound? It happens sometimes.”
Theatres up and down the Front Range should be looking at the scripts of Lauren Gunderson. She has written twenty plays – only three of which have been done in Colorado so far. Catamounts took on The Taming last year and Silent Sky was included in the BETC season as well. Her recent The Book of Will was the hit of the season last year at the Denver Center. That leaves seventeen scripts for other theatres to peruse and contemplate. If they are as cleverly written, as full of intelligent humor, as insightful into historic but human characters as The Revolutionists, we have a lot to look forward to. She is the most produced playwright in the country for the 2017-2018 season. If any of you hear of a Gunderson play being done ANYWHERE in Colorado, please let me know. I’m there!
With only the slightest bit of knowledge about the French Revolution, we know going in that things are not going to end well for Marie. But watching how she and the others prepare for and rail against the fate that has been decreed for them is the lesson of the production. Their wry humor, their support for one another, their acceptance of the inevitability of their places in history . . . each in a different way becomes a hero for themselves, each other, and those who still today seek peaceful solutions to violent situations.
On a theatrical level, the simple staging only adds to the elegance of the evening. Much is done with costumes and the simplest of sets which move us from Olympe’s drawing room to Madame Guillotine and back. Allison Watrous’ sure-handed direction keeps the story balanced, allowing the humor full rein and the poignancy of the story to slip into your psyche unnoticed while you are laughing. Adrian Egolf is a magnificent Marie Antoinette with just the right touch of irony and self-deprecation. Her throw-away delivery of the humorous statements that underline her precarious position and unbelievable life to this point make you hope the real Marie was this self-aware. Rebecca Remaly as the writer Olympe seemed to take the salvation of this impossible situation onto her own shoulders to solve the only way she knew how. Her Olympe is desperate and determined, frantic and frustrated with herself for not being able to find the words to make everything right. Jada Dixon is a laid back, wistful Marianne, lonely, far from home and missing her husband and children. She believes in revolution but not in this bloody debauched mess they find themselves suffering through. The steel in Maire’s backbone translates to a tough-minded Eponine-like Charlotte, angry and determined. Together they are a formidable cast bringing to life an amazing story. NOT TO BE MISSED.
A WOW factor of 10!