BWW Review: THE REVOLUTIONISTS at Playhouse On Park
"Every revolution starts with a story, of who we are and who we can become." These words from Sarah Hartmann, the director of Playhouse on Park's current production of THE REVOLUTIONISTS perfectly illustrate the heart of Lauren Gunderson's play. By telling the stories of four iconic women who were brave enough to stand up during the Reign of Terror, one of the darkest moments in history, and fight for freedom and equality, THE REVOLUTIONISTS informs, excites, entertains, and most importantly, inspires.
If you are like me, your French history may be a bit rusty, so while I recognized most of the names of the characters portrayed in THE REVOLUTIONISTS, I didn't recall much of their story. But that is soon resolved, as each bold and brilliant woman is introduced in quick succession, along with their story and the place they will one day hold in history. We first meet Olympe De Gouges (Rebecca Hart) the "only female playwright still in Paris" according to the play. She is visited first by her friend Marianne Angelle (Erin Roché) an abolitionist from Saint-Dominique (and the only completely fictional character in the play), who implores her friend to stop writing her play and instead write a pamphlet for her calling for freedom for the slaves in Saint-Dominique. They are soon abruptly introduced to Charlotte Corday (Olivia Jampol) the would-be assassin of Jean-Paul Marat, who has also come to Olympe with her own request - write last words for her to say to the crowds before she meets Madame Guillotine. Finally, and most surprisingly, the women are joined by Marie Antoinette (Jennifer Holcombe) who has just lost her husband to the uprising and is looking for a "rewrite" of her own story. The four women banter and bond, and soon go off to meet their fates. Charlotte to Marat's tubside, Olympe to share her own "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen" and suffer the backlash, and Marie-Antoinette, well we all know what happened to her.
There is much to celebrate in Lauren Gunderson's THE REVOLIUTIONISTS. First, the story is compelling, interesting and achieves the rare feat of providing new context to a familiar subject. Next, the play works so well because of the four strong female characters telling the story. Each has their own quirks and passions, but share a common goal - revolution - but not necessarily in the overthrow the government sense, but revolution against hypocrisy and hate, for women's equality, and for freedom for all. Ms. Gunderson's writing is sharp, witty, and downright funny. She opts for contemporary dialogue vs. 18th century speak and once you realize this, it makes the story accessible and easy to relate to.
Sarah Hartmann's direction is tight and fast-paced. She uses the simple setting quite effectively, thrusting the audience into the story without too much delay, and keeping the momentum going throughout the evening. The four women playing these "revolutionists" are each brilliant in their own way. First, as Olympe De Gouges, Rebecca Hart is smart, sharp, and quick witted. She portrays Olympe as driven but conflicted, someone with passion, but who is still figuring out what that passion is for, exactly. Much of the humor comes through her interactions and her comic delivery is spot on. She is a thrill to watch embody the playwright and is the thread that binds the play together. Next, as Marianne Angelle, Erin Roché is fiery, determined and level-headed. She portrays the abolitionist with fierce determination, but with a love and devotion to her family and to her cause. Olivia Jampol's Charlotte Corday is aggressive, determined and so full of energy, she can barely stand still. You believe immediately that this is a woman who could actually go through with her murderous plans, bound by a fiery need for justice. Finally, in what is probably my favorite portrayal ever of citizen-queen Marie-Antoinette, Jennifer Holcombe is frivolous, funny and fantastic. But it is in her later scenes where she speaks of motherhood and her family, that we see some of the layers of this misunderstood figure and realize that she, like all of us, has basic human desires and needs.
Scenic Designer David Lewis' simple square stage serves the story well, surrounded on the edges by the books and accoutrements of Olympe's home. Kate Bunce's costumes strike the perfect balance of period-appropriate with a slightly contemporary twist, with Marie-Antoinette's being the most accurate (especially her fabulous wig). Rider Q. Stanton's lighting strikes the perfect chord, with deep reds for the foreboding scenes at the guillotine and a makeshift jail for a particularly poignant scene between Marianne and Charlotte.
Overall, Playhouse on Park's THE REVOLUTIONISTS is a brilliant, captivating, and entertaining journey through a singular moment in history, told through a contemporary lens, with a strong female perspective. The title may not be instantly recognizable, but it is absolutely worth the visit to West Hartford and is one that will have audiences talking about for a long time. Don't miss it, though, as it only runs through March 10th. Liberté! Egalité! Sororité!
THE REVOLUTIONISTS runs at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT through March 10th. For more information, call 860-523-5900 ext. 10 or visit www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119
Photos courtesy Meredith Longo.
Mid Photo 1: Jennifer Holcombe as Marie Antoinette
Mid Photo 2: Jennifer Holcombe as Marie Antoinette, Erin Roché as Marianne Angelle
Bottom Photo: Rebecca Hart as Olympe de Gouges