The Revolutionists

October 23, 2017

in Plays

Play (2017)
by Lauren Gunderson

Directed by Courtney O’Connor

Central Square Theater
Central Square, Cambridge, MA
October 19 – November 12, 2017

With Lee Mikeska Gardner (Olympe De Gouges), Eliza Rose Fichter (Charlotte Corday), Celeste Oliva (Marie Antoinette), Alexandria King (Marianne Angelle)

Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)

Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793)

A fanciful dramatic comedy set in post-revolutionary France of the early 1790s, featuring four strong, mostly historic, female characters.

French revolutionary era playwright Olympe de Gouges (Lee Mikeska Gardner) worries about what sort of play to write and engages with Haitian activist Marianne Angelle (Alexandria King), Marat’s assassin Charlotte Corday (Eliza Rose Fichter), and the infamous Marie Antoinette (Celeste Oliva), to help figure it out. Meanwhile, the various characters muse on their social roles and contributions, worry about love, and exchange grand thoughts about writing, art and history while the guillotine lurks above.

There is a lot of self-conscious writing about writing in this play, particularly at the beginning, suggesting the possibility that playwright Gunderson had not quite known initially what she was setting out to do, gradually coming around to integrating her desire to write a comedy with a determination to tell, at the same time, the story of four strong women who influenced the French Revolution. The result is a long improvisation that has the earmarks of comic writing but which ultimately holds to a more serious frame, not always harmoniously. Despite de Gouges’ initial expressed concern that the play be funny and not obsess about the guillotine, eventually it does, and its tone wavers between the frivolous and the heavily dramatic.

Charlotte Corday (1768-1793)

Charlotte Corday (1768-1793)

The four excellent actors who bring this play to the stage of the Central Square Theater are the main attraction here. All of them are expressive, forceful, and compelling in their renditions of the roles which they have been handed. Courtney O’Connor’s direction is very effective in helping each of the actors to make her presence felt in a direct and eloquent manner.

De Gouges, Corday and Marie Antoinette are clearly historic characters, all of whom were executed during the Reign of Terror. Marianne Angelle appears to be a constructed character but conceived as married to Vincent Ogé, an historic Haitian activist of color who, at around the same time, instigated a revolt against the colonialists that led to the Haitian revolution of 1791, and for which he, as well, paid a premium.

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)

Marie Antoinette (1755-1793)

The play itself is based, as are many of Lauren Gunderson’s plays, on historical figures but is not always tied to the form of historical drama. While rendering its historically inspired dialogue it attempts to give a whimsical flavor to the imagined interaction of these four women, seeking out a humorous response. The dialogue, much of it in contemporary American idiomatic speech, frequently falls short of delivering the intended frivolity. The result is a long improvisation on what these women symbolize with drama and levity that don’t quite mesh. The casual speech, which garners a laugh or two, mostly does so because it is out of sync with the depicted setting.

Though the idea of doing a play celebrating the roles of these notable women is a good one, it seems like it could have done its work in about half the time. As written, it runs about two hours with a ten minute intermission, and feels like it goes on, repeating its musings about writing and history, invention and reality, and occasionally about love, without terribly much momentum. The dramatic end, for those who know it, lurks in the distance, but the combined silliness and intensity of the interchanges between the characters does not cultivate the sense of building towards it. Despite these tonal inconsistencies arising from the feeling that this is a tragic narrative stuffed forcefully into a comedy, the four actresses are so good that one does get a strong sense of their characters, with performances well worth watching.

– BADMan

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