‘The Revolutionists’ showcases unsung heroines of the French Revolution in a brutal comedy. Curse words and all.
1793 wasn’t a very good year, friends.
“The Revolutionists” is a political fantasy-comedy about four women living boldly during the Reign of Terror in Paris. The play follows the meeting of women who fear the power others have cast upon them. We learn that they have been misunderstood, each of them narrating their shortcomings as noted in history, yet a touch of fiction paints them as unsung heroines.
The scene is Paris, 1793 and we are quickly introduced to Charlotte Corday and Marie Antoinette. The former assassinated the French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat and the latter, a Vienna-born French queen, was separated from her head.
Don’t know the whole list of accusations made against the infamous queen? Click here if you want to feel conflicted.
The stage, decorated to simulate a traditional 1700s playwright’s room, has mirrors for walls, similar to the Palace of Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors. In this space, Olympe de Gouges, a feminist political playwright, is going through a writer’s block. Then, fictional Marianne Angelle, a radical and spy from Haiti rallying against slavery, barges in and asks Gouges to write political pamphlets to support her cause.
The story has a fast and furious pace and leaves little room for subtexts. In the first scene, Angelle and Gouge debate the role of theater and whether its arts is provocative enough to fit into the “real world” instead of distracting people from Paris’ dark guillotine days.
This debate and the themes about the fight for equality and freedom puts the audience right into the middle of the French Revolution but with a modern take. Its hilarious one-liners and witty anachronisms, can at times sound off-putting but the elements click perfectly into place.
The characters, using inspiring and energetic lines, are determined to correct the course of a revolution gone wrong. The audience is welcomed to revive this time in history and not from men’s point of view.
Lauren Gunderson’s four characters are optimistic, smart, collaborative and damn funny. Her ability to revive de Gouges as a frustrated playwright with a boasting ego is impressive.
The quartet has undeniable chemistry onstage. Marianne confronts the other’s ideologies about slavery and race. Marie questions the significance of the entire revolution and asks a rewrite that will rebrand her stained reputation. Corday needs de Gouge to justify her crime on paper. All the while, the playwright identifies these women’s intentions as inspiration for her next masterpiece.
Will it be a musical? A speech? A four-hour play combining all of their stories?
In a tour de force moment and confided in her studio with her reflection staring back at her, Gouges realizes she has to write a manifesto- not a play.
In reality, she published the pamphlet Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the [Female] Citizen “as a reply to the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the [Male] Citizen.” In the summer of 1793, she was arrested and guillotined five months later.
No women in this play are found kissing someone in the end, but rather proclaiming words with a passion that at times felt more like explosions of esoteric ideas on paper. But the dialogue works and the relevance to today’s narrative of women’s unspoken truths is impossible to miss here.
“Sometimes, a revolution needs a woman’s touch,” Marie Antoinette says.
With its honest take on women’s dismissal during France’s political transformation, “The Revolutionists” wants you to pay close attention to what you’re reading about today’s social movements and take part in it.
Visit stageworkstheater.org for tickets and showtimes. Students pay $20. General public $30- $35.
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