Four Women and a French Revolution

THE REVOLUTIONISTS at MOXIE Theatre helps illuminate some historical girl power in a comic play about women who were heroes of the French Revolution and victims of the Reign of Terror that followed behind it.

Written by Lauren Gunderson this witty play, is a self-described “play within a play” that’s “mostly a comedy” with some music, that is about the French revolution.  Yet it does take the time to remind the audience how this is definitely NOT that musical about angry men at a barricade with a flag, and sometimes wonders who would go see that anyways.

Samantha Ginn, Lisel Gorell-Getz, Jo Anne Glover & Cashae Monya – Photo by Daren Scott

This  play also highlights three real women of the French revolution who, sadly,  most of history has relegated to the corner who struggled to be recognized as who they actually were and not what society deemed them.  Even sadder, these ideas still ring true as we continue to have Women’s Marches, the search for equal pay, and even the radical idea that yes, a woman can be the lead in a superhero movie.

Olympe De Gouges (Jo Anne Glover) is our playwright, a wealthy advocate of the arts and civil liberties that wants to use art to change the world.  In history she was an early activist for women’s rights and an abolitionist. She declares that she wants to write a play that shows “the boys how revolutions are done.”

Charlotte Corday (Samantha Ginn) is the young and ambitious assassin of Jean-Paul Marat, and she needs De Gouges to provide Charlotte with some stirring and memorable last words.

Marie Antoinette (Lisel Gorell-Getz), arguably the least revolutionary of the bunch but a symbol of it nonetheless,  is displeased with how she is being perceived and looking for a rewrite of her history.

Rounding out the group is Marianne (Cashae Monya), a free woman of color, married to a free man of color who was a revolutionist, Marianne  yearns to strike a blow for plantation workers and independence from the French owned sugar plantations.  While not a historical character she is based on an amalgam of Caribbean freedom fighters of the time, and she is the fierce glue that keeps the other characters going when they start to wilt (but never break) under the weight of their convictions.

As De Gouges, Glover is funny as a liberal elitist who is sometimes shocked to discover she is elite.  While dedicated to her goals, and the ideal that art and theatre can change the world by changing minds, she is a bit wary of losing her life or liberties. She’s a proudly self-declared theatre person who chooses to focus on her art and doesn’t always see the importance of what’s going on in reality, or even outside. “I’m a theatre person, I’m useless in the sunshine” she declares at one point to her more realistic friend and confidant Marianne.

Ginn is hilariously fanatic as Charlotte, who understands the consequences of what she is going to do, but has the passion to continue on.  Dedicated to her plan, Ginn sells some wild lines like “I need somewhere safe to practice my stabbing and scary eyes.”

Gorell-Getz is a delightful, if ditzy monarch who floats in with giant panniers and pockets full of ribbons as she implores De Gouges, “I need a rewrite.”

Unlike her historically verifiable counterparts, it’s Monya’s fictional Marianne that is the only one who seems to fully live in the world and be aware of the costs of these actions.  Monya provides the steel backbone these ladies need, and her passion and emotions are the most fully realized as she suffers over wondering where her husband, a freedom fighter in the Caribbean could be or what he is experiencing. As such, she is the most fully realized portrayal of them all.

Directed by Jennifer Eve Thorn this play is strong, funny, and moves at a lively pace.  The cast clearly has camaraderie from having worked together before, and it shows with the clear bond between these performers. That helps make this play, one about the bonds and the support of a group of women as they pursue some difficult roads, ring all the more true.

Emily Small’s set is all clean lines and open spaces, with little guillotines in the walls as if in reminder that there is a fate they cannot escape.  The costumes by Jennifer Brawn Gittings are beautiful, and complimented by some very impressive wigs by Missy Bradstreet.  Everything is capped off with some lovely lighting, especially in the second act, by Rachel Le Vine.

The second act loses a touch of steam, but that’s to be expected when it starts to delve into the more serious consequences of the actions from the first act.  The hardest part is that historically, three of these women do ultimately lose their heads, so this leads to the feeling of a journey with no real destination.  Yet, it may not be the final destination but the journey that is ultimately the most illuminating.

These women know the power of their words, and want them to have a lasting impact, even when they may no longer be here.  Ironically, though she did not do much to effect this change, it is Marie Antoinette who informs the audience that for women to truly be free, the first thing that has to change is how men see them.

Funny how the more things change, the more things stay the same; which is precisely the balance that this play strikes. These are characters from history but their personalities, their dreams, hopes, and desires are still very much contemporary goals.

THE REVOLUTIONISTS  is playing the MOXIE Theatre through June 18th.  For show times and ticket information go to www.moxietheatre.com

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