Lauren Gunderson has made a name for herself – and has become the country’s most produced living playwright in each of the past two years – with a series of works that include wordy and funny feminist re-examinations of the lives of great women from science like Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie and Émilie du Châtelet. She also turned her gaze to modern politics with pieces like “The Taming” and “Natural Shocks.”
…an irreproachable realization…a staging at the top…
In “The Revolutionists,” which hit the scene amid the political uproar of 2017, she does both. Gunderson examines the dangers of extremism and the duty of artists and ordinary citizens in times of chaos through the lens of four women of the French Revolution: playwright Olympe De Gouge, Haitian freedom fighter Marianne Angelle, former Queen Marie-Antoinette and the assassin Charlotte Corday.
The four reunite for a series of imaginary conversations in de Gouge’s Paris studio as Revolution begins to turn into Terror. She and Angelle are confronted by a frantic Corday, who is hours away from stabbing radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub. She wants de Gouge to write her a few last words so the world knows she acted out of cool political calculation, not feminine irrationality. The ex-queen later arrives, and the other three see her as a monster turned into a monster of sympathy, if not pity.
“The Revolutionists” is best when these four smart women fight and conspire. The original duo’s efforts to help Corday drive most of the first act at an effective pace. Beyond that, however, the narrative locomotion is somewhat lacking. In his effort to avoid being too explanatory, Gunderson skimps on details. Corday’s motivation to become an assassin is dealt with too quickly, and the women are later also too quick to give Marie their forgiveness and friendship.
Prologue Theater rises above these asperities of the text with impeccable staging. The actors work together seamlessly, creating an immediately obvious intimacy. A walk-through theatre, with spectators seated opposite on two sides, can be stuffy, but set designer Matthew J. Keegan makes clever use of it, placing a guillotine and a door on mirrored platforms in the “destination zones”. end” of the playing area. The device perfectly frames the main action in the center of the scene and also highlights the detachment that each woman feels when she leaves the company of others.
As Olympus, Anna DiGiovanni is the passionate core of the unlikely quartet and plays the character with a wide range of passion, insecurity and sensitivity. The role of Marianne demands that Arika Thames be the moral force of the group, keeping Olympus focused on what matters most and reminding others of what’s at stake. She does this with a low-key performance that brings out the anger. and Marianne’s determination.
Danielle Gallo expands Charlotte beyond what Gunderson offered, racing wildly from fury to doubt to resolution, and ultimately, to acceptance. It is the most physically realized performance, a truly kinetic interpretation of the role. Fabiolla Da Silva deftly manages her neat portrayal of Mary, balancing between the somewhat silly and disconnected ex-Queen Gunderson introduced first and the more serious and introspective Mary of the second act.
Like all of Gunderson’s plays, “The Revolutionists” is original, literary and thought-provoking, and quite funny too. Director Jessica Lefkow has created a superlative staging of the show that overcomes the script’s weak points and is worth watching.
“The Revolutionists” runs through May 22, 2022, presented by The Prologue Theater at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002. Click here for tickets and information. NOTE: All patrons must wear a mask and show proof of vaccination to attend a show.