BWW Review: THE REVOLUTIONISTS at Arts West Is a Revolutionary Dream Fugue That Elicits Both a Chuckle and a Sigh.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS at ArtsWest is a revolutionary dream fugue of an implausible meeting of four great women during the French Revolution. They have individual battles and seek to better the world, yet find a way to support each other. Their imagined sisterhood is a fresh take on could happen if people work together and move beyond the stereotypes and labels that box us in. The show's tragi-comedy elicits both a chuckle and a sigh.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS follows the stories of four separate and individually remarkable women during the French Revolution in a fictional take on what might have happened if they had known each other. Playwright Lauren Gunderson centers the play on Olympe de Gouges, a feminist playwright of the time. De Gouges is visited by the three other women who seek her services. Charlotte Corday, who is planning to murder Marat (a lead of the Reign of Terror) visits de Gouges to ask her to write her last words as Corday is aware that her plans will result in a visit to Madame Guillotine. De Gouges has already been visited by Marianne Anglle, an amalgam of several free women of color who worked to end slavery in the French Caribbean. Anglle requests her help in writing pamphlets and declarations in the fight for abolition. Finally, the foursome is complete with the arrival of Marie Antoniette who needs de Gouges to rewrite her history to make her more sympathetic. Together they work to find the best way to ensure that their noble efforts are remembered through the power of the written word.
The premise is clever and the first act snaps long in a beautiful rhythm of word play, historical and musical references, and witty repartee. There are many hidden gems of jokes that require careful attention to get, but well worth the effort. Act II slowly slides the scale of comedy to drama until it is almost all on the serious side of drama. Each character has their moment or truth and date with destiny. While each of their stories is unique, it felt a bit like climbing the same mountain several times in a row. The two acts almost felt like parts of two different plays where each would be powerful on its own, but reads a bit mismatched when forced together. Still the characters were compelling, and the acting superb.
Sunam Ellis brings a playfulness to the part of Olympe de Gouges giving her both the ego and insecurity of an artist. Dedra D. Woods as Marianne Anglle has the unenviable task of representing an entire group of women often overlooked by history. She carries herself with bravado and a no-nonsense focus that is necessary for the task at hand yet manages to make Anglle be a pillar of strength with a tender heart. Hannah Mootz's portrayal of Charlotte Corday is full of fire and finesse. Marie Antoinette has become a caricature of history. Jonelle Jordan walks the line in giving her humanity without attempting to atone for her flaws. Her masterful delivery of the most absurd lines was the very best of part of the show. The camaraderie among the women is a goal for all who hope to precipitate change in the world.
The minimalist scenic design by Julia Welch provided just enough for the action to move with ease but allow intimate moments at well. The backdrop repeated the theme of Antoinette's ribbons and provided symbolic visuals of the things that tie us together. The lighting and projections by Thorn Michaels were equally important in moving the story forward and creating a separate setting in mere seconds. The segmented transition of the women in death showed how quickly a life may fade but their words may live on. Director Kelly Kitchens guides the cast through the story with alacrity and creates a slower tempo when the moment needs to breathe. The only thing missing from the production team was a dramaturg who could have provided some background information on the characters and history to make the story fully accessible to everyone in the audience. While the script itself fills in many of the holes, this is one case where more would have been more.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS reminds us that everyone has a story, but how we are remembered is often determined by who records our life and actions. It is vital that we seek the stories of those who have been forgotten and give voice to them. Equally we must remember to choose our own words carefully with the knowledge that they will be used to mark our impact and place in history. And finally we must give a nod to writers and playwrights to work to tell all our stories. As Linn Manuel Miranda said in Hamilton, "who lives, who dies, who tells your story?"
THE REVOLUTIONISTS is playing at ArtsWest Theater now through February 9th. For tickets or more information, please visit www.artswest.org.