Is there anything to laugh about during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror? Clearly, playwright Lauren Gunderson found just the right formula for a dream-tweaked comedy featuring some real-life folks in 1793 Paris. Or perhaps the play might more accurately be termed a dramedy – for THE REVOLUTIONISTS deals with violence and legacy, art and activism, feminism and terrorism, and compatriots and chosen sisters. Gunderson’s tale could be a true story – or maybe total fiction. You’ll have to be the judge.
The time is 1793, and the place is Paris during the French Revolution. Olympe de Gouges (Kat Kemmet) has been toying with the idea of writing a play about the incidents going on just outside her comfortable Paris apartment. When her close friend Marianne Angelle (Alana J. Webster) shows up unexpectedly from her Caribbean home with a message of independence and freedom from slavery, Olympe is even more motivated to pen a story about revolution – but from a different perspective. What if women were in charge of things? The unanticipated appearance of Charlotte Corday (Sami Stumman) – with her fierce plans to murder Marat – coupled with the astonishing arrival of Marie-Antoinette (Meghan Lloyd) – a woman who just wants to set the record straight – quickly add fuel to this dangerous undertaking. After all, words can draw blood as surely as a dagger – or even a guillotine. And so the unlikely alliance of these four very different females proceeds.
Director Melanie MacQueen and the four actors clearly get the conundrum that this meeting implies – a very “what if” situation come to life. Kudos to the ladies who portray the principals. They make this improbable gathering seem almost normal as they chat and share their thoughts and feelings while the world outside continues to erupt into violence. The play within a play spins on despite the reality ready to intrude. As always, Jeff G. Rack’s set design is spot-on – he even includes a sparkly chandelier and that fateful bathtub to emphasize a contrast worth considering. Michael Mullen’s costumes are dazzling and simply perfect to delineate and differentiate these four individuals – with the able assistance of Judi Lewin’s hair/wig/makeup design.
The primary critique about THE REVOLUTIONISTS involves the play itself. This is a talky production with very limited action – too many words and not much else. Of course, this gives the playwright the opportunity to flesh out the four main characters – certainly a positive. However, a greater balance between verbiage and movement in service to the story would have been welcome. Perhaps the play would shine as a radio production – rather than on stage. Given this shortcoming, the director, cast, and production team did the best job possible under the circumstances. THE REVOLUTIONISTS is a clever, creative, and sometimes amusing look at what would happen if four woman had in fact met and interacted.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS runs through June 18, 2023, with performances at 7:30 p.m. from Thursdays through Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Theatre Forty is located in the Mary Levin Cutler Theatre at 241 S. Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90212 – on the campus of Beverly Hills High school. Tickets are $35. For information and reservations, call 310-364-0535 or go online.