BWW Review: THE REVOLUTIONISTS Serve Girl Power at Main Street Theater
Lauren Gunderson reimagines four women as heroes of the French Revolution, even as they each fall victim to the Reign of Terror which followed.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS takes place in what we can only imagine is the head of feminist author and playwright Olympe De Gouges as she creates what unfolds before us. It's a play within a play that knows and is aware that it is a construct. The author claims it is "mostly a comedy", and it is certainly not a musical about a barricade with people singing the songs of angry men. No, this one is the words of enraged women as they struggle to be recognized as the vehicles of liberation.
Shannon Emerick plays the butchly dressed playwright Olympe De Gouges who struggles through the proceedings to figure out what to say. She does get to quote from her dazzling 1791 Declaration of the Rights of Woman and Citizen, but mostly seems puzzled and concerned about what her women are really saying to the world. One of the most grounded voices comes from Callina Situka who is playing an amalgam of Caribbean freedom fighters named Marianne Angelle. She is the most revolutionary of the four females wishing to strike a blow for the enslaved in French owned sugar plantations. Also featured is the assassin of Jean-Paul Marat, Charlotte Corday played by Molly Searcy. She plots political murder, but is in search of her last words from the author in the play. Then we have the least revolutionary figure of the bunch, Marie Antoinette played to the gilded hilt by Bree Welch. She is seeking a rewrite of her history, but alas is doomed to die for being far too fabulous.
The acting is immaculate, and the direction from Andrew Ruthven is strong and crisp. The cast keeps things as lively as they can throughout both acts. Costumes from Macy Lyne are fantastic, and the hand painted set from Jodi Bobrovsky is charming. J. Mitchell Cronin gets to light some dazzling guillotine sequences, and Yezminne Zepeda's sound design is superb. This is a top-notch first rate production that serves Main Street Theater well as a strong season opener. Everything works save for one thing that holds back the true changing of tides this piece could usher in.
The script seems to falter here and there, and hits strange patches in the second act that make me question what THE REVOLUTIONISTS is trying to say ultimately. It's concerned with women's rights, women's support of each other, but in the final analysis seems as confused as the character Olympe De Gouges is throughout. Nobody seems to be on a journey with any real destination, and that makes this grouping of revolutionary daughters seem anticlimactic. Three of the four are real historical women, but all four seem to only be given one plainsong note to sing. You almost wish someone would whip out "I Dreamed a Dream" just to elevate the mood.
The four actresses despite a meandering script manage to create something special, and their sorority is solid. You could not ask for better performances from the ensemble. Shannon Emerick, Callina Situka, and Molly Searcy make us buy what their characters are saying. They elevate the proceedings and wisely know when to gloss over the confusing bits. But yet it is Bree Welch's Marie Antoinette that knocks the comedy bits out of the park and make the show sing. She brings pitch perfect timing to every line, and in the end creates the most rounded revolutionary of the evening. It's strange that monarch Marie becomes the clearest voice in a play about feminist ideals when she herself did little to forward the cause. Yet Marie Antoinette informs the audience that for women to be truly free the way men see them is the first thing that has to change. In this era of fear of women in power that seems the most apt thing THE REVOLUTIONISTS can say.
In the end we have four smart actresses guided by an excellent production team, yet they struggle through an uneven script that doesn't quite get there. THE REVOLUTIONISTS works best if you sit back and admire it without getting too bogged down by searching for meaning. I suggest you enjoy the comic bits and marvel at the quartet of fierce actresses before you. This is solid work, and it is worth your time despite the shortcomings ultimately. I wish it expressed itself better, but THE REVOLUTIONISTS comes at a time when we need dangerous women more than ever. Who runs the world?
THE REVOLUTIONISTS runs through October 2nd at Main Street Theater's Rice Village location. Tickets can be reserved through their website at mainstreettheater.com/. The box office can also be reached to charge by phone at 713-524-6706.