Pasa Reviews The Revolutionists
The Revolutionists Adobe Rose Theatre, Oct. 19
Lauren Gunderson’s play the opening production of Adobe Rose Theatre’s fourth season, takes a while to settle in, but by intermission, the play and the performers convince the audience that something special is going on. The year is 1793, and four Parisian women cross paths against the background of the French Revolution. Three of them are drawn from history, with great poetic license: Olympe de Gouges (played by Mary Beth Lindsey), a playwright who gets sidetracked in writing feminist political tracts and crafting last words for doomed souls; Charlotte Corday (Ariana Karp), whom history remembers for murdering the Jacobin journalist Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub; and Marie Antoinette (Maureen Joyce Mckenna), the ill-fated queen who insists she did not say that thing about cake. Added to their number is a fictional figure, Marianne Angelle (Danielle Louise Reddick), a free black woman from the colonies in the Caribbean.
It is implausible that these four women would have intersected in person, but implausibility is no stranger to the theatrical stage. Viewed from a different perspective, though, their overlap is logical — women linked as bystanders in a gruesome struggle over the Rights of Man, by which the militants of the French Revolution definitely meant “man” as opposed to “man and woman” — and assuredly not “man and woman of whatever color.” But Gunderson broadens her scope still further. Off-putting as it may be for a while, she amalgamates the 18th-century setting with our own time through the use of modern-day vernacular and cultural references. This can prove jarring and even cheap — do we really need all those theatre in-jokes and references to Les Misérables on Broadway? — but, all in all, her stratagem pays off by the time the guillotine has severed necks and the play has ended.
Tightly directed by Lindsey Hope Pearlman, the production sports handsome costumes by Jasminka Jesic — and not just the queen’s billowing, fairytale gown with bows of delicate pink and blue pastels. All four actors convey their parts persuasively, both individually and as a well-knit ensemble. None touches the heart more earnestly than Reddick, whose loss is presented to the audience in the most personal way. Karp presents a resolute Corday, a pillar of courage unwavering in her political mission. Mckenna plays Marie Antoinette rather along the lines of Marilyn Monroe — a “baby doll” on the surface but with wisdom lurking beneath, adding up to a multilayered portrayal in which political awareness lends grounding to this idealistic foursome. Lindsey’s staunch interpretation of the outspoken playwright is equal parts Ethel Merman and Statue of Liberty.
Room for improvement? Yes, particularly in vocal matters. The theater space is set up rather like a football field — seats facing each other on the two sides with the play unrolling “on the field” in between. If an actor faces one side, lines do not always make it to the other. This not infrequently leads to overcompensation by shouting when just firmer projection would probably do the trick. A scene in which two of the actors play revolutionary tribunes, identified in the script as “Fraternité,” is nearly undone by their affecting almost indecipherable French accents. (Why do these French men speak with cartoon accents while the French women do not?) Gunderson’s text can sometimes descend to a self-indulgent exchange of maxims, but in the end, it adds up to a thought-provoking play about a still-ongoing struggle over the Rights of … not-just-Man.
— James M. Keller
Maureen Joyce Mckenna plays Marie Antoinette rather along the lines of Marilyn Monroe — a “baby doll” on the surface but with wisdom lurking beneath.