Theatre Review: Woman Centered View in The Revolutionists at Theatre Horizon
One of the wonderful things about going to review theater is the opportunity to see a play about which you know nothing or very little. Regardless whether it is amazing or merely pedestrian, the experience is interesting. The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson produced at Theatre Horizon is very much the former. It is not only extremely witty, but it is also a pointed diatribe against today’s society.
Director Kathryn Macmillan, one of the area’s most consistently great story tellers, tells the tale of French political playwright Olympe de Gouges (Charlotte Northeast) who is trying to write a play that captures the spirit of the French Revolution from the point of view of women. She wants to make a bold declaration of how the revolution does not include women, but with the real threat of meeting Madame Guillotine, she is understandably circumspect. She is visited by three famous women who challenge her trepidation and offer a different perspective of the dangerous task at hand.
The first character to interact with Olympe is Marianne Angelle (Jaylene Clark Owens), an active spy in the Haitian revolution that is taking place at the same time as the one in France but is an ocean away. Her character quickly becomes Olympe’s conscience. She calls Olympe out on her shortcomings and tries to interpret for her the events occurring outside her room.
Next, she meets Charlotte Corday (Claire Inie-Richards) who famously assassinates a leader of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat. Charlotte exemplifies action. Through her character, Olympe realizes that talk is cheap and that for women to create change they must do more than merely talk about it or make ideological declarations.
Finally, Queen Marie Antoinette (Jessica Bedford) arrives in Olympe’s study. She represents another area of womanhood that is unrepresented in the revolution. At first the three revolutionists despise what she stands for and do not believe that she has any merit in the play. As the four continue to interact, they grow to appreciate that in some fashion, Marie is just another victim of men and their revolution.
In the end as each character confronts her end at the hands of the guillotine, her final words help shape the voice of Olympe’s declaration. She has written for them the words they need to express their hatred of men who have purloined the true meaning of the revolution.
Each of the four women delineates her character. Each has several wonderful moments that defines her part of the argument. Charlotte Northeast is wonderful as her Olympe teeters as each new argument is made and challenged. She is glib, vulnerable and terrified with equal ease. The three visitors each proffer nuanced performances that both complement and confront Olympe as she uses the play to organize her thoughts about the revolution.
Director Macmillan gets great help from her design team. Brian Dudkiewicz’s set is both elegant and utilitarian. It provides a rich texture that reads Revolutionary France and offers the director convenient spaces and levels to create appropriate pictures for the audience. Veteran costumer, Janus Stefanowicz provides each character with costuming that punctuates her character.
Lighting Designer Lily Fossner establishes a wonderful lighting scheme highlighted by a chandelier that both adapts to the lines of the set and serves as a cold representation of the guillotine. The effect is both subtle and efficacious. Chris Colucci’s detailed sound design helps pull it all together to create a wonderful world for Olympe’s disquisition investigating the nature of revolution and the true meaning of equality.
Today, where we discover daily the inequality between men and women, Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists challenges the audience to see how embarrassingly little change has occurred. The Revolutionists runs until February 25th at Theatre Horizon in Norristown, a wonderful theatrical space with parking, handicapped access, and a wonderfully charming staff. For tickets go to the website www.theatrehorizon.org or call 610-283-2230 x2.