By Karen Isaacs
Is it a play within a play? A play about writing a play? A fantasy? The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson at Playhouse on Park through March 10 could be all of these or none of them.
This adventuresome comedy about the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror will keep you guessing. While we may recognize the names of some of the characters, actually all are based on real people, three of whom were beheaded during this period.
It opens with Olympe De Gouges, a playwright, struggling with her latest work as “Madame Guillotine” is beheading dozens of people every day. But wait — someone is at the door. Is it the authorities? No it is Marianne Angelle, who is from a French colonized island in the Caribbean. Marianne who with her tricolor sash is obviously meant to represent the iconic representation of France of the same name, is an abolitionist and a freedom fighter. Her husband has just returned to the island to continue the struggle against slavery and colonial rule. She is staying behind to continue the work.
What does she want of our heroine?
Almost before that can be answered, another knck brings a strange woman who wants De Gouges to write “her last line.” But who is this? It is Charlotte Cordey who will murder Jean-Paul Marat, a philosopher who became known for his statements urging the execution of those opposed to the Revolution. But we have barely figured this all out, when another knock reveals Marie Antoinette, whose husband, the King, has already been executed.
While death surrounds them, hope also lives within each; Angelle for freedom, Corday for sacrifice for a cause, the Queen for survival or at least acknowledgement of the misconceptions people have of her. But what hope does De Gouges carry? It is the hope that art can help change the world.
Their world is turning upside down but each faces the unknown and their futures with equanimity, displaying true courage.
The play which is often humorous, is a feminist themed piece. These women are strong and determined. Yet each has had to try to squeeze herself into the expected roles and personalities; none is truly free to be herself.
At times some of the choices of director Sarah Hartman are problematic. Olivia Jampol who plays Corday is wearing a long blond wig that makes no attempt at naturalness. Jennifer Holcombe plays Marie Antoinette as if she were a puppet with a squeaky voice.
Despite these, the overall production is engrossing. But I have to admit sometimes I thought I had wandered into Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author.
For tickets visit playhouseonpark.org.