“Myself, I have never been able to discover precisely what feminism is: I only know that I am called a feminist each time I express feelings that differentiate me from a doormat. —Rebecca West
The revolutionaries is a feminist comedy about the French Revolution. Yes, that Revolution. And it works. Lauren Gunderson, hailed as America’s most produced playwright, introduces us to a witty sisterhood of four determined women who learn to support each other no matter the cost.
Our heroine, Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793) (Anna DiGiovanni) is a historical figure: playwright and social activist for causes like abolitionism and women’s rights. She is probably best known for her pamphlet Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Citizen (1791), a response to Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizenwhich was passed by the French National Assembly in 1789. She advocated for women’s suffrage more than 100 years before the “first wave” of feminism in the early 20th century.
Olympe wants — oh, how she wants — to write a play on the Revolution. Unfortunately, she suffers from a blockage. Played by Anna DiGiovanni, she is driven, committed and passionate about the arts. Despite her self-absorption as a writer, DiGiovanni’s engaging performance has us rooting for her every moment.
Olympe is interrupted by an old friend, Marianne Angelle (Arika Thames), the only non-historical character. Marianne is from the Caribbean, an activist for the liberation from slavery. For her, the blocking of Olympe is not a tragedy; “To be ripped from one’s country, stuffed into the belly of a ship, transported around the world and forced to break one’s back to make sugar for French pastries is a tragedy.”
Marianne urges Olympe to help her by writing pamphlets to denounce the hypocrisy of the French who fight for freedom, equality, fraternity while run a colony of slaves in the West.
The two are joined by Charlotte Corday (1768-1793) (Danielle Gallo), soon famous and exceptionally focused, who has only one goal: to kill the “sick, fundamentalists, politicians”. expert which caused the death of thousands of innocent people”, journalist and radical politician Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793). She enters looking for a line (in this case a few last words) like a character out of Pirandello. More importantly, she carries a knife.
Marie Antoinette (1755–1793) (Fabiolla Da Silva), the former queen, floats like a breeze. She wants a rewrite, and who can blame her? Subjected to a terrible campaign of lies and violence, she was the scapegoat, as foreign princesses often are, for the failings of her husband’s regime. She complains about the amount of exposure she is dealing with. It seems that the play takes place entirely in the mind of Olympe. It’s like Six characters in search of an authorexcept that it’s a comedy, and that the author is there on stage!
Initially, Marie Antoinette is portrayed as the “Am I too pretty?” overly privileged white woman, an Uptown Girl for the ages. Her character gains depth throughout, however, and ultimately it’s a sympathetic view of a woman that’s been translated for generations. Although uneducated, Antoinette was not stupid. By the time the play unfolds, she is already a widow. She also lost two children. Her daughter Sophie was fragile from birth and died at six months. His son the Dauphin died of probable spinal tuberculosis at the age of 7. Da Silva is wonderfully funny in the role and displays flashes of compassion that she was actually known for in life (and no, she probably didn’t say “Let them eat cake”).
The stakes increase as the game deepens. Beneath the surface, the spirit and intensity hides a fervent political purpose. And the power of women who are willing to put their lives on the line for justice.
The settings are: a safe place, a study, the Tribunal, the scaffold. Matthew J. Keegan’s stage design is simple, elegant and effective. Lighting design (Domino Mannheim) and sound design (Gordon Nimmo-Smith) are hauntingly relevant. Costume design by Alison Samantha Johnson is imaginative and well suited to the character. Marie Antoinette’s dress, as you might expect, is the most striking, ruffled and pale blue. During his trial, there are black, disturbing and definitive masked figures.
Lauren Gunderson said:
Hell yeah, it’s political. The play recounts a time in history when rich and poor were light years away from their way of life, the country was in multiple wars, the debt was huge, workers were overtaxed, trust in government was zero, the leaders were corrupt and greedy, racism, sexism, poverty, violence, extremism… The only difference between them and us is the year and the continent.
At a time when constitutional rights, especially those of women, are under serious attack, it is a pleasure to see women with passion, conviction and intelligence standing up for what they believe in. Director Jessica Lefkow has created a highly entertaining production with a lasting message.
“I am not free while no woman is free, even if her chains are very different from mine.” — Audre Lorde
Duration: Two hours, with an intermission.
The revolutionaries plays until May 22, 2022 presented by Prologue Theater performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street NE Washington, DC. Buy tickets (general $35; students $25, seniors, teachers, military; industry $15; $20 rush) in line.
The program for The revolutionaries is online here.
COVID Safety: All patrons, visitors and staff members visiting the Atlas Performing Arts Center must be fully immunized on the date of their visit. Face masks are mandatory at all times for all customers, visitors and staff, regardless of vaccination status in all indoor spaces. The complete Atlas Performing Arts Center health and safety policy is here.
THE REVOLUTIONARIES by Lauren Gunderson
Olympe de Gouges: Anna DiGiovanni (her)
Marianne Angelle: Arika Thames (she/they)
Charlotte Corday: Danielle Gallo (she/they)
Marie Antoinette: Fabiolla Da Silva (her)
Director: Jessica Lefkow (her)
Scenography: Matthew J. Keegan (he/him)
Lighting design: Domino Mannheim (her)
Sound design: Gordon Nimmo-Smith (he/him)
Costume design: Alison Samantha Johnson (her)
Technical Director & Founding Artistic Director, Prologue: Jason Tamborini (he/him)