by Shirley Lorraine
Viva La Femmes en Révolution!
Santa Paula Theater Center opens its new season of thought-provoking staging with The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson. Now hailed as the current most produced living playwright, Gunderson’s writings have garnered many awards. SPTC’s season offerings all fall under the heading of “that’s what she said” featuring works by outstanding female playwrights.
The Revolutionists is a generous mix of philosophy, history, equality entreaty and fantasy. The rapid-fire dialogue and energy of the characters, in addition to following the multi-layered action, kept me intensely focused. And sometimes confused.
Set during the French Revolution of 1793-1794, the play centers around activist and feminist playwright Olympe De Gouges. She is working on what she hopes is a definitive statement of feminist rights and encounters writers’ block.
As she struggles with her creativity, she is joined by several other women who each desire that De Gouges write something to secure their specific standing in history. Each wants to be remembered in a positive light for their accomplishments.
De Gouges is visited by Marianne Angelle, a Caribbean rebel/activist/spy who is fighting to end slavery. Angelle, a composite character, voices concerns for her people, mounting logical arguments and desiring the writer devise a pamphlet for her cause.
They are interrupted by Charlotte Corday, famous for murdering French political leader Jean-Paul Marat, an act that she considers she is doing “for the women of France.” She wishes a strong final statement written for her as she stands at the guillotine.
Joining them then is deposed Queen Marie Antoinette, portrayed in history in an indelicate light. She, recognizing that her historical legacy will be skewed, would like the writer to highlight her positive contributions before she, too, is beheaded.
De Gouges works hard to accommodate each, all the while expounding her own statements about the importance of theater and its influences. She is fierce in her appeals for women’s rights and is heartily booed at the National Convention for her convictions.
Each character is so different they are fascinating to watch as an ensemble. Sarah Broughton takes on the central role of Olympe De Gouges with panache. At times overly theatrical and pontificating, she maintains the focal point throughout.
Juliana Acosta plays Marianne. Her character appears the most level-headed of the four, stating her desires with purpose and logic. She presents an air of competent calm, giving a nice contrast to the flighty characterization of Marie Antoinette by Aileen-Marie Scott. Scott is resplendent in beautiful wig and gown, obviously having a ball with her outrageous depiction. She is a delight to watch.
The single-minded Charlotte Corday is embodied by Rosie Gordon, who gives a highly focused and chilling performance.
The actors are all outstanding. The piece itself is highly relevant at its core to today’s society (history does tend to repeat itself), recognizing the underplaying of women’s roles throughout history and the continual struggle for equality.
Direction by Jessi May Stevenson conveys the similarities in the characters’ challenges, while amplifying their differences.
This is a complex piece that bears introspection and scrutiny.
The Revolutionists plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through March 15. Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 S. Seventh Street, Santa Paula. Tickets available at www.santapaulatheatercenter.org, [email protected] or 805-525-4645.