Pasa Re­views The Revo­lu­tion­ists

The Revo­lu­tion­ists Adobe Rose Theatre, Oct. 19

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - The Revo­lu­tion­ists,

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.

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