Avant Bard’s Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight with Sara Barker in the role of the whip-smart 18th century very real Emilie is a clear knock-out for critics and audiences alike.
But, this column is taking a bit different approach to the production. I want to highlight the theatrical work of a supporting actor I had not seen previously on a DC stage. With Avant Bard’s Emilie, it was the supporting actor Billie Krishawn. In a production that includes a number of doubling roles, Krishawn plays her share. She makes each character she inhabits meaty and with emotional depth.
Krishawn, now 25, is a DC native and graduate of DC’s Duke Ellington School. She graduated from Drew University in Madison, New Jersey in 2014 before returning to DC to begin her professional theater career in earnest. She is also a teaching artist in locales such as the DC public schools.
In Avant Bard’s Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight, Krishawn is listed as playing a character named Soubrette. In theater and opera parlance, a soubrette can be a kind of a comic presence, or a teaser; perhaps a servant or maybe a young person of some vanity in a lighter, mischievous role. Something that might be off to the side of the main spotlight, while adding some flourishes to the action.
Well, I can say that with her work in Emilie, written by Lauren Gunderson and as directed by Rick Hammerly, Krishawn is as far from merely being a soubrette as I can imagine. Krishawn made her stage appearance matter, but without dimming anyone else’s light, or worse – becoming a distraction. Krishawn added a kinetic, lively, assured spark to Emilie.
Even when standing in the low light in the wings, I watched as she was in the moment, in an alert dancer-like pose of energy ready to put into gear.
Krishawn vibrantly portrays two major characters in Emilie. She is Sara Barker’s doppelgänger though as a younger version of Barker’s rendition of the character Emilie. Krishawn also portrays Emilie’s feisty daughter ready to live her own life.
Krishawn has a number of major interactions with Barker throughout the Avant Bard production. As Emilie’s daughter she forcefully, if not defiantly, lets her mother know in no uncertain terms who and what she is. She is a daughter who takes after her mother and takes her mother on. With some well-placed poignant words, she wants to emotionally hurt her mother, or at least to make her stutter and sputter thinking of how to respond. And succeed she did. (Perhaps it was just me, but I was quickly brought back to my own now-33-year-old daughter doing something similar to me when we once argued. She stood her ground; she never raised her voice, but I was stricken quiet).
As Barker’s younger doppelganger Emilie self, Krishawn has a way of speaking a line in duet with Barker in a kind of overlapping dialogue; syllable for syllable, tone for tone, until only Krishawn could be heard. It is as if Barker’s life force came to inhabit Krishawn.
As the play concluded, Krishawn’s younger doppelganger Emilie makes certain that Barker’s mature Emilie knows to continue on her path of self-discovery. Krishawn provides urgency to bittersweet lines that could have been lost, such as “You are not done” and life “don’t have solutions” and lives are not equations to be solved.
So please keep your eyes open for Billie Krishawn. Here is her bio so you know a bit more about her: ‘Thrilled to make her Avant Bard debut in this production of Emilie. A native Washingtonian, Billie has performed in NY, NJ, and the DMV as an actress, teaching artist, and poet. Her recent credits include Jumanji (Adventure Theatre MTC), How Old Is a Hero (Discovery Theater), and Bully (Interrobang Theatre Company). Film credits include TV One’s For My Man and Orange Juice in Bishops Garden.
I also took the opportunity to have a quick chat with Billie Krishawn by telephone. She spoke of her work as a teaching artist at DC’s Coolidge High School and bringing her students to the Arena Stage production of Baskerville a couple years ago.
She spoke glowingly of being cast by Avant Bard in Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight saying ”being cast in Emilie gave me the opportunity to have emotional weight in the characters I portrayed.” She also spoke about the opportunity to be “challenged,” doing art “that mattered.”
When I asked what was next, Krishawn mentioned these upcoming productions: Greensboro Lunch Counter at the Museum of American History and Skin of Our Teeth at Constellation Theatre Company. So be on the lookout.
One last thing before I leave playwright Lauren Gundeson’s Emilie. I had the good fortune to hear Gunderson in person when she made this presentation at the American Theatre Critic Association annual meeting. It is worth a read for those interested in playwrights and theater critics relationships.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight plays through November 12, 2017, at Avant Bard performing at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two – 2700 South Lang Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 418-4808, or purchase them online.