THE REVOLUTIONISTS – Written by Lauren Gunderson; Directed by Matthew Schultz. Produced by 11 Minutes Theatre Company (presented at the People’s Building, 9995 East Colfax, Aurora) through October 21. Tickets available at 11MinutesTheatre.com.
Lauren Gunderson is fast becoming one of my favorite playwrights after having seen at least five of her scripts performed in the last two years. She continues to be the most performed playwright in the country since 2016. She currently has at least 25 scripts published that are being performed on a regular basis. She takes historical events and people (mostly women) and makes them come alive in a contemporary world. The language and humor of the four women from the French Revolution imbue them with a modernity that makes their story meaningful to an audience of today. They become women who are more than just a picture or a paragraph in a history book. They are women who love both deeply and casually, who have children they care about, who have affection and concern for each other and their cause. They are, in some cases, vain; in some cases, arrogant and self-important; in other cases, shallow at the same time as being fierce in their efforts on behalf of the Revolution.
The first woman we meet is the playwright Olympe de Gouge. A true feminist, de Gouge at first supported the Revolution, but soon retraced her steps when she realized that the principle of “egalite” was not going to be extended to women. Her awareness of the direction of the Revolution and her declarations against it brought her to the attention of Robespierre and put her life in immediate danger. As portrayed by Janine Ann Kahlenbach, she is passionate, stubborn, and unafraid (up to a point).
Next to appear is Marianne Angelle, a composite character who stands for all the people fighting for the rights of the enslaved residents of the Caribbean French colonies. As played by Tiya Trent, she epitomizes fraternity – one of the supposed values of the Revolution – more than the others. Less ego than anyone and more genuinely caring about her sisters. Her gentle counseling and obvious concern for her compatriots is moving and genuine.
Charlotte Corday is the next semi-familiar name to appear. The woman who is plotting to murder Marat in his bathtub appears at de Gouge’s door demanding some great exit lines. She knows she’s not going to get away with this infamous murder but wants some really memorable words to shout as they carry her away. Alison Talavacchio brings a street smart coarseness to the role that feels authentic. She is fed up with Marat’s cruelty and murderous ways and is ready to give up her own life to keep him from killing others. She’s loud, unrelenting and got a knife in her pocket. Tell her what to say and get out of the way!!
The last surprising guest is none other than Marie Antoinette herself. By this time, her husband, Louis XVI, had faced Madame Guillotine and she knew they would be coming for her soon. She shows up because of de Gouge’s writings about the rights of women, the possibility of a constitutional monarchy that might possibly save her life, and because she had nowhere else to go. This part is written to steal the show. And steal it Dallas Slankard did. Her down-to-earth attitude about the fun and fear of being Queen and her personal vanity give her the opportunity for giggle-inducing one-liners and throw away personal putdowns. She’s aware that compared to the efforts of the others, she’s a joke. But an important joke, nevertheless. She just doesn’t want to die. Dallas nails the attitude and the unexpected humility perfectly.
Is it possible that these three real life characters would have ever met? Corday did have several days in Paris in which to organize her plan to kill Marat. It could be possible that she would have sought out someone to assist her with some dramatic words to shout while she did the deed. De Gouge did speak against the beheading of the King and the possibility of a compromise government that would encompass both a royal house and a moderate citizen government. It is not impossible that Marie would have sought out an educated outspoken woman as a comrade. Charlotte Corday was beheaded on July 17th; Marie Antoinette was guillotined on October 16; de Gouge on November 3. But it’s about as possible as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis (MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET) all getting together in one room to sing to each other. Nevertheless, Gunderson’s creating this episode is not dependent on fact and gives us a backstage look at the clouds around Paris during the 1790’s.
The playing space at the People’s Building rarely allows for walls in a set. 11 Minutes has compensated and blocked the view of the back wall with a giant scaffold and a huge guillotine which looms over every word and deed. The ominous whoosh of the falling blade punctuates the evening with regularity. The simple set was enhanced by the dramatic lighting of Kevin Taylor and the beautiful costumes of an unnamed costumer.
A short run but definitely worth the trip to Aurora to enjoy this accomplished telling of a delightful script.
A WOW factor of 8.5!
PS: Another play will be opening soon that takes another four women on a dangerous journey on behalf of equality for women. CADILLAC CREW opening at Vintage Theatre on October 20th continues the never-ending story of women fighting the good fight for equal rights.