THE REVOLUTIONISTS: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Gil Scott-Heron)
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: TheatreLab, The Basement, 300 E. Broad St, RVA 23219
Performances: February 27 – March 21, 2020
Ticket Prices: $30 Regular Admission; $20 Seniors & Industry/RVATA; $10 Students and Teachers with ID
Info: (804) 506-3533 or TheatreLABrva.org
Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists, first produced in 2015, may be the only comedy that begins and ends with an execution. The Revolutionists is a play about a woman writing a play during the French Revolution. It is hysterically funny, and it is real. Three of the four characters are historical (not hysterical) figures:
Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) was a French playwright and political activist. She was executed by guillotine for seditious behavior and attempting to reinstate the monarchy – based on the “evidence” found in the contents of an unfinished play about former Queen of France Marie Antoinette.
Women have the right to mount the scaffold;
they should likewise have the right to mount the rostrum.
-Olympe de Gouges played by Maggie Roop
Charlotte Corday (1768-1793) was a political activist who was executed by guillotine for the assassination of Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat, a leader of the Reign of Terror. She stabbed him in his bath.
I killed one man to save 100,000.
-Charlotte Corday played by Lydia Hynes
Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) was the last Queen of France before the French Revolution. She was convicted of treason and executed by guillotine.
No one understands my ills, nor the terror that fills my breast,
who does not know the heart of a mother.
– Marie Antoinette, played by Maggie Bavolack
Marianne Angelle is a composite of the free black women revolutionaries of the island nation of Saint Domingue (now Haiti). The island was rich in sugar, coffee, and cotton with a population of 500,000 slaves, 32,000 white people, and 28,000 free black people. In August 1791 the Saint Domingue revolutionaries started the first successful slave revolt in history.
You can’t be a hero if you’re too scared to show up!
– Marianne Angelle played by Katrinah Carol Lewis
For two hours (including one ten-minute intermission), these four women gather in Olympe’s Parisian office to talk philosophy and plan how to change the world. The Revolutionists is a smart, fast-paced, bold tragi-comedy. It is a play that embraces a love of words and language, and Chelsea Burke’s thoughtfully irreverent and well-timed direction dares the audience to come along for the ride and keep up. Dasia Gregg’s understated set (some framed wall sections, a tiny desk and a few seats that are removed after the first act) has the audience seated in the four corners of the intimate space. Some audience members were sitting just a foot or two away from the performers when they sat on a chair on chaise lounge.
It wasn’t until the end of this riotous yet serious discourse that we realized we were not ordinary participants, but extras cast in the role of audience members. It was something like going along for a ride in your friend’s new car, only to find out later that the car was stolen, and you were the designated getaway driver for the crime they planned to commit.
The Revolutionists boasts a dynamic cast with Maggie Roop as Olympe de Gouges, full of fiery talk but coming up short when it’s time to take real action. Lydia Hynes portrays Charlotte Corday with youthful energy and commitment – and she’s loud (and that’s not a criticism, but a comment from her mentors, Olympe and Marianne). Maggie Bavolack is very pink and fluffy (especially her hair and bosom) and is hysterically funny as Marie Antoinette. But she also expresses an unexpected warmth and compassion that develops as she spends time with Marianne and Olympe.
And then there’s Katrinah Carol Lewis as the free-black freedom fighter Marianne. Marianne is the character we learn the most about, from her family to her political and womanist philosophies and Lewis takes full ownership of this character and the show, from the moment she strides into Olympe’s office, assesses the situation, and applies her sense of righteous indignation tempered with wisdom beyond her years.
In fact, all the woman exhibit knowledge beyond their years – or at least beyond their time period – as their dialogue and declarations are interspersed with contemporary language and well-seasoned with swear words.
The production team includes period costumes by Ruth Hedberg (some attractive, some serviceable, some versatile, and some for fun), sound design by Kelsey Cordrey (filled with crowd sounds, heavy breathing, ticking clocks, gunshots and other ambient sounds), and dramatic lighting by Michael Jarrett that goes black to tastefully yet ominously indicate that the guillotine has dropped.
The Revolutionists, a part of the Acts of Faith Festival, runs through March 21. To paraphrase Marianne, “You can’t be a participant if you’re too scared to show up.” Don’t be that person.
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
Photo Credits: Tom Topinka
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