“It’s a powerful thing to come together and laugh in a scary time.”
– Playwright Lauren Gunderson
Mon Dieu! I had no idea how much I needed a good laugh until I attended a performance of Everyman Theatre’s smash hit, The Revolutionists. Things have been extra-bonus tough in the U.S. the last few weeks. After a year of media buzzing with the constant din of tragedy and injustice, one kind of gets used to the sound. But then, like this month, some issues make a noticeable splash – new tax laws, domestic terrorism, the #metoo movement – and it’s a big reminder of how momentous – and scary – the time we live in is.
The actual revolutionists – the four remarkable women featured in Lauren Gunderson’s outstanding comedy – also lived at a momentous, and scary, time. The play occurs in 1793 Paris, home of the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and a very busy Madame Guillotine. In this setting, Gunderson presents an imagined intersection of four revolutionary women: three historically real, and one who is a composite of women working for equality, particularly in the French Caribbean territories.
I typically scribble some notes while I am attending a performance that I will review. I did so for this production, as well, but instead of reminders of useful things like how seamlessly Daniel Ettinger’s flexible set could take us from a playwright’s study to a prison cell or the balcony at the Tribunal, I have two pages of quotes. Clever lines so hilariously delivered I felt compelled to write them down. Things like “No risk of puppets. Everybody wins” and “Stabby: the Musical.” (I think it may have been “Stabbing: the Musical,” but you can hear want you want. I heard Stabby.)
The rapid-fire barbs and quick-witted retorts volleyed between the characters were so funny that if the actors had waited for the laughter to fully die down before delivering their next lines, the show would have been six hours long. The fantastic dialogue, coupled with the precision comedic timing of the actors, makes the show a truly riotous success.
Megan Anderson plays revolutionary playwright, Olympe De Gouges. Each of the other characters comes to De Gouges in search of words: words to inspire rebellion, words to be remembered by, words to record the kind of historical truths that rarely come forth from the pens of men. Anderson is incandescent as De Gouges, aglow with noble purpose and in love with the immortal power of the written word. Anderson skillfully communicates not only the strength and courage of her character, but also her neuroses and insecurities. Hers is a beautiful and nuanced performance.
And Megan – take that costume home with you when the show closes! You look amazing. I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with the unusual skirts on David Burdick’s otherwise-stunning costumes for Anderson’s fellow femmes de la resistance, but her character’s pantsuit is to die for.
Dawn Ursula inspires as Marianne Angelle, the sassy Caribbean revolutionary fighting against the French occupation of her home country and for universal gender equality. Angelle and De Gouges poke fun at each other, but share a charming warmth and fondness. Ursula shines in these scenes; she conveys so much with a simple glance or facial expression, a change in posture or a pointed “mmm hmmm.” Her character’s heart is on fire with revolution and she is committed to Getting Stuff Done. Ursula delivers.
Emily Kester gives a winning performance as real life assassin, Charlotte Corday. Posthumously nicknamed l’ange de l’assassinat (the Angel of Assassination), Corday was a young woman with a singularity of purpose: to remove from the world extremist newspaperman Jean-Paul Marat, whom she blamed for fostering the brutality of the Reign of Terror. Kester imbues her character – who was just shy of her 25th birthday when she did the deed – with a rock ‘n’ roll sensibility that is underscored by Sound Designer C Andrew Mayer’s bold use of electric guitar during some of Kester’s more badass scenes. Kester’s portrayal of Corday is lovely, likable, and lethal. She kills it.
Delightful as ever, Beth Hylton is terrific as Marie Antoinette. With crackerjack comic timing and her flair for physical comedy, Hylton is hilarious as the ill-fated monarch. But she also brings a depth to the character that is rarely seen. Sure, Marie is a spoiled aristocrat, but she is also a mother and a wife; a woman with her own ideas and thoughts in a world where women’s thoughts and ideas aren’t valued. Brava to Gunderson for writing the character as an actual person instead of a caricature of privilege, and to Hylton for finding the balance between the humor and the human.
Finally, I’d like to give a shout out to Laura Weiss, Special Assistant to the Artistic and Managing Directors, for two wonderful articles in the program for The Revolutionists. I don’t actually know who is responsible for the programs at Everyman – it’s not the sort of thing that normally comes up in reviews – but they always have interesting dramaturgical info in there. I found Weiss’ pieces, Today’s Artistic Revolutionists and Legendary Women: Fact Versus Fiction both interesting and informative. Kudos.
Everyman’s production of The Revolutionists is a collection of rights. It’s got the right writer – there’s a reason Lauren Gunderson is the most produced playwright in America (not counting The Bard) this year; the right director – the deservedly acclaimed Casey Stangl; the right cast; the right designers; and, let’s face it, the spot-on right time. So do the right thing. Go see The Revolutionists. Right now.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission.
Available across the street at the Atrium Garage. The cost is $11.00 for those attending the theater.