BWW Reviews: EMILIE at ArtsWest

January 27
3:08 PM 2011


ArtsWest is presenting the Seattle premiere of fresh new playwright Lauren Gunderson's, "Emilie: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight".  Initially having a little trouble finding its way, this Stoppard-esque exploration of life and love ultimately turns in an evening of humor and heartbreak with a powerhouse ending.

The story follows the posthumous journey of 18th century mathematician and physicist Gabrielle Emilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Chatelet (played by Kate Witt) as she metaphysically looks back on her life, loves and scientific achievements, concluding with her quest for the formula of the Force of Life.  But which force is stronger, Love or Philosophy?  That is what she must deduce as she tallies up the moments of her existence.  And she does this by employing the assistance of some ethereal avatars (Sara Coates, Jason Marr & Jody McCoy) to recreate the key moments surrounding her and her true love, the French Philosopher Voltaire (Nick DeSantis).  But as the moments unfold she finds herself insinuating herself in the scenes rather than simply watching which she quickly finds out is against some otherworldly rules.

Now, I hear you thinking out there, "Great!   A period piece that I'll have to slog through copious amounts of period dialogue and sensibilities.  Plus, I was told there would be no math!"  Not to worry, everything is conveyed with a very modern sense as the issues of life vs. love are timeless.  And unlike Stoppard, you won't need a Masters degree to get through the mathematical references.  Gunderson has put together a smart and funny script that leads you by the hand through the life of this fascinating yet often overlooked contributor of the scientific world.  True, in Act One some of the set up wandered a bit but by the time you reach Act Two the show really takes off and ends with some achingly beautiful moments.

Much of the credit must go to Witt and DeSantis whose stage presence knows no bounds.  Witt, who must basically carry the entirety of this show, constantly engages the audience with force, wit and charm.  Her multi-layered performance had the audience in the palm of her hand.  And DeSantis manages to show amazing vulnerability in a character known for his confidence and braggadocio.   Let us not forget the rest of the ensemble who had the uneasy task of portraying everyone else in Emilie's life and often times had to convey scenes in silence.  Each had their moments where they shone.  McCoy's turn as Emilie's mother was wonderfully pompous.  Coates who repeatedly had to stand in for the zealous Emilie forced into narration matched Witt's intention and style perfectly keeping the character focused although being played by two people.  And Marr was stunning in all his roles especially in a scene as Sir Isaac Newton where he hilariously managed to communicate volumes without ever speaking a word.

Ably directed by SusAnna Wilson, the show manages to amuse and delight as, for the most part, it keeps the pace and the characters clipping along.  Although I did feel that the moments of mystical punishment of Emilie never quite worked and in fact halted the flow of the show several times.  Add into that a wonderfully simple yet functional set by Dan Schuy and "Emilie" teaches as it entertains and thinks as it thrills. 

"Emilie: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight" plays at ArtsWest through February 20th.  For tickets or information contact the ArtsWest box office at 206-938-0339 or visit them online at

Photo Credit: Michael Brunk

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