Lyric Arts shows how women can support and push each other forward, even during the French Revolution.
From left to right: Courtney VonVett, Kiko Laureano, Dana Lee Thompson, and Alyson Enderle in "The Revolutionists," now through May 2. Photo courtesy Lyric Arts.
The French Revolution was a time of extremism, twisted principles, and as spotlighted by playwright Lauren Gunderson, women heroes. Assassin Charlotte Corday. Playwright Olympe de Gouges. Marianne Angelle, a creation of Gunderson's to represent the Black women rebels in the first successful slave rebellion in what is now Haiti. Even former queen Marie Antoinette—she would be the first to tell you that you can't tell a story of the French Revolution without her in it (or at least, her character in the play would).
In Gunderson's play "The Revolutionists," she brings them all under one roof, and now Lyric Arts is bringing them to you with the theater's first staged production since the pandemic.
History in progress
The show, which streams online through May 2, is an ensemble quartet, but Olympe's desire to write a play about the French Revolution underpins the piece. While the meta quality this brings may not always pass a logic test, the dream-like set with floating papers and sunset lights by Katie Phillips and Shannon Elliot, respectively, gives the play an in-between quality:
It's history, but it's not. It's conversations between women who could have been in the same room but weren't. "The Revolutionists" is a story that makes you wish for what could have been and yearn for unknown stories that were lost. And, with some killer one-liners ("What good is a declaration if everyone agrees?"), the play encourages and challenges our march toward justice in the 21st century.
The premise of four historical women made me think of a few recent shows—"Hamilton," "Six," "Dining with the Ancestors"—but Gunderson's strong script gives the play its own voice as the women face fear, loss, and hope together. (If Gunderson's name sounds familiar, it's because SteppingStone just ran a play of hers, and the Jungle is currently streaming her newest one.)
Big personalities anchored in humanity
Although the characters could be taken too far (especially Marie Antoinette's ribbon-loving, child-like quirks), the actors step into their roles with grace, empathy, and more than a little humor, plus some spot-on costuming by Samantha Fromm Haddow.
Courtney VonVett flips between Marie Antoinette's ditziness and moments of insight without splitting the character, and Kiko Laureano strips away Charlotte's toughened exterior as she faces the consequences of murder. Our playwright Olympe, as portrayed by Alyson Enderle, shows her hesitation—and resolve—in embracing what power she has through vocal nuances. As for Marianne, Dana Lee Thompson makes her the most even-keeled while still showing the mettle it takes to nurture a family, new friendships, and a world you can only see in your dreams.
"The Revolutionists" is truly a comedy and a tragedy, with crackling banter and 21st-century jokes among an unjust amount of death. The show's quickly accumulating witticisms had me yearning to hear an audience chuckle along with me, and I missed the intangible, collective tension of a held breath during the more emotional moments, orchestrated by director Hannah Weinberg-Goerger. Still, seeing the show through a screen doesn't stop the women of "The Revolutionists" from making an impact.