BWW Review: Epic Theatre Company's THE REVOLUTIONISTS
Comedic and thought-provoking are both accurate terms for Epic Theatre Company's Rhode Island premiere of Lauren Gunderson's 2018 play, THE REVOLUTIONISTS. In times of political unrest, what is the place of art? Does equality also apply to women? Is theatre something frivolous and only for the rich? Or is writing in any form a truly revolutionary act, as something that will last long after the original writer is dead? These are just some of the issues that are raised by Gunderson's play and that are tackled with aplomb in this production.
Our play begins in 1793, the middle of the French Revolution, in the writing room of Olympes de Gouges (a real historical figure), played by Joanne Fayan as a frazzled but determined Revolutionary playwright. De Gouges just can't decide what to write next, leading us into a very meta play about writing a play, that is hilariously self aware of this fact. Before she can wallow in despair for too long, she's quickly joined by three other women, all hoping that she will be the writer to help them with the variety of situations they face. Angelique Dina is the bold Marianne Angelle, a free woman with the goal of abolishing slavery across the French empire, encouraging de Gouges to write pamphlets and treatises that will help her cause. Charlotte Corday (another real historical figure), portrayed here with moxie and fierceness by Betsy Rinaldi, is the next to appear, shortly before her "appointment" to assassinate a Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat, looking for a written line to accompany the deed she is about to do. Finally, "Marie enters" - Marie Antoinette that is. Recently deposed and saddened over what she perceives as her loss of popularity, she implores de Gouges for a rewrite. As Marie, Steph Rodger is appropriately dizzy and not-quite self aware, though even she has moments of poignancy. The camaraderie between all four women is excellent, through both the sublimely silly and the deadly serious. These women ultimately end up asking the unseen male leaders of the French Revolutionary government if women not only deserve equal rights, but also a full say in the new society being formed? With a guillotine often the answer, the actors appeal directly to the audience in a series of poignant moments.
Within the space of the Artists' Exchange Theatre 82, the scenery is kept spare which makes sense for the almost dreamlike feeling of this show, rapidly changing from one place to another. The set piece we return to multiple times, the guillotine, is portrayed through projection and sound. Lighting in this show, as directed by Alexander Sprague, is particularly well-used, especially the way people seem to "disappear" into the darkness after their execution.
While the language of the play reflects the era it was written in (ie. very modern), costume designers Peggy Begger and Joanne Fayan have stuck with clothing that reflects late 1700s French fashion, from a plainer dress for de Gouges to a wide pannier skirt for Antoinette
Per the note in the program, Epic hopes to "leave you thinking about what you've just seen," and they more than accomplish that with The Revolutionists. Performances run through February 23rd at 50 Rolfe Square, home of the Artists' Exchange, where Epic Theatre is the resident theater company. For tickets, go to http://www.artists-exchange.org/events.html.
Photo credit: Dave Cantelli