Tuesday, February 26, 2019

From the Desk of Jim R, Take 2, Column 140, A Review: "The Revolutionists" (Playhouse on Park)

By James V. Ruocco

Introduire les femmes de la révolution.

Olympe de Gouges: A French playwright and political activist who began a career writing about women's right's and abolitionism in the 1780s, de Gouges demanded that women be given the same rights as men. In 1793, she was executed by guillotine for attacking the Revolutionary regime of the French government and for her association with the Girondists,

Marie-Antoinette: The last Queen of France before the French Revolution, Marie-Antoinette was accused of harboring sympathies for France's enemies and placed under house arrest in October, 1789 along with other members of the royal family. In 1793, she was convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal of treason and executed by guillotine on the Place de la Revolution.

Charlotte Cordey: Nicknamed "l'ange de l'assassinat" or the Angel of Assassination for the stabbing (through the heart, that is) of Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat (this was done during his medicinal bath), the man who played a significant role in the political purge of the Girondians,  Cordey, the daughter of an impoverished aristocrat, was executed by guillotine in 1793 for her crime.

Marianne Angelle: A fictional character fighting against the French occupation of the West Indies and the ongoing rebellion in her country against French-imposed slavery, Angelle is a foreigner and spy who was created from an amalgam of Black revolutionary women who were involved in the 1790's rebellion of Saint-Dominique, which today, is now known as Haiti.

Ainsi, il commence.

These four women are the vocal centerpiece and raging comic quartet of  Lauren Gunderson's "The Revolutionists," a bright, lively and ballsy 18th century period piece overflowing with conversational roars, stinging truths, enjoyable narcissism, icy one-liners and astonishing relevance.


Playhouse on Park's definitive interpretation of Gunderson's deep dive into a very feminist revolution enlightens and entertains with a freshly-minted gleam that makes its profound, forward-thinking tone and undercurrents timely, powerful and digestably delightful.

Set in 1793 Paris during the period known as the Reign of Terror, "The Revolutionists" finds French playwright/activist  Olympe de Gouges frantically trying to write a play about the French Revolution using the personal stories of Charlotte Corday, Marie-Antoinette and Marianne Angelle as its main selling point.

"The play can't be about power and death," she explains. "But about grace and power
in the face of it."

"My actions will be talked about for centuries and I don't want to sound like a dingbat," cries Charlotte Corday. "I need something that will sink into their memories for all time, something with a lot of 'Fuck you' in it."

A musical, perhaps. Not very likely, but the jokes and pointed references to "Les Miserables" ensue, prompting laughs in all the right places.

Rires visant au théâtre musical.

Staging "The Revolutionists," director Sarah Hartmann is well aware of the play's verbal choreography, its modernistic sociospeak, its frivolous giggles, its eloquence, its undecided questions, its feminist gallops and proclamations and its dizzying flourishes. That said, she creates a fast-spinning work that prompts attention from the get-go, chock full of well-defining moments, powerful emotions, embracing tenure and nerve-jangling bravery.

Directorially, her choices are imaginative and succinct. She is well attuned to the playwright's understanding of the revolution and the human condition. She fills the stage with memorable detail and solidity that piques immediate interest. She captures the angst, the absurdity, the truths and the crisp flicks of the four main characters in bold, show-stealing fashion. She also evokes the wisdom and the free-spirit of the author's original conceit and its playful, in-your-face form of storytelling.

Finally, she makes the story of an 18th century playwright and feminist well worth telling. She knows what works and what doesn't. She knows how to pull her audience in hook, line and sinker. She finds those big, important moments in the script and lets them dance, breathe and dazzle. She creates stirring images and gives voice to four uniquely different women who are outspoken, revolutionary and electric. Moreover, she does this without the preachy clutter and creaky calculation found in so many of today's newer plays and productions.  Elsewhere, the actual staging of the execution scenes is both gripping and boldly imaginative.

Ainsi, la guillotine tombe.

"The Revolutionists" stars Rebecca Hart as Olympe de Gouges, Jennifer Holcombe as Marie-Antoinette, Olivia Jampol as Charlotte Corday and Erin Roche as Marianne Angelle. All four craft fresh, invigorating performances with a bold, Actor's Studio vibe that complements the play's 18th century machinations. As Olympe de Gouges, Hart brings the necessary pulse and heartbeat to the part of the frantic playwright, exuded with refreshing spunk, humanity and appropriate craziness. Jampol, in turn, brings thrilling immediacy and boldness to her colorful portrait of stab-crazy assassin and heroine Charlotte Corday. She's a nut job, front, line and center, but we love her just the same.

In the larger-than-life role of Marie-Antoinette, Holcombe delivers a zesty, showy, thoroughly delightful performance that reveals the heart and mindset of an embattled, misunderstood monarch whose promiscuity was fodder for well-heated gossip and lavish spending habits plunged France into a financial crisis. She prances. She poses. She babbles. She gapes. She plays the Queen as an actual person rather than a caricature of privilege. And she does it, every so effectively. As Marianne Angelle, Roche brings imaginative, raw nuance and purpose to her characterization, coupled with great personality, earnestness and commitment. Hers is a full-bodied, beautiful performance.

Focused, captivating and theatrically thrilling, "The Revolutionists" is a dazzling entertainment well aware of its acutely polished verbal capabilities. It is fun. It is provocative. It is truthful. It is bold. The lead actors pierce the soundscape with extraordinarily nuanced performances. Sarah Hartmann's direction is pertinent and precise. The dialogue is both radical and victorious. And, as written by Lauren Gunderson, it is well worth seeing. So is the big, perfectly-coiffed Marie-Antoinette wig, worn to absolute perfection by its star and well worthy of a round of applause or two.

Profitez! Célébrez! Manger du gâteau!

Photos by Meredith Longo

"The Revolutionists" is being staged at Playhouse on Park (244 Park Rd., West Hartford, CT), now through March 10.
For tickets or more information, call (860) 523-5900.

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