The Revolutionists is a very meta fantasy about what might have happened if four women, three real and one amalgamation inspired by several historical figures, had met during the “Reign of Terror” during the French Revolution. It’s an interesting idea and I usually enjoy a good bit of meta silliness but I found something off in this production. Park Square Theatre recently announced that they were cancelling the rest of their 2022/2023 season, including the highly anticipated World Premiere summer mystery Holmes/Poirot by Jeffrey Hatcher and Steve Hendrickson. Post-pandemic has been a challenging environment for theaters fiscally and we have seen many companies struggle and shutter. Hopefully, Park Square will be able to create a plan for moving forward and we will see them reopen in the fall of 2023. While The Revolutionists isn’t my favorite production I’ve seen at Park Square, they have produced some really fantastic shows. If you’ve ever enjoyed a show at Park Square Theatre I urge you to contribute if you can to their future. Click on this link to make a donation.
The Revolutionists is written by Lauren Gunderson who was America’s most produced living playwright for the 2022/2023 theater season. This was the third time she has topped the list, the others being 2017 and the 2019/2020 season. In the Twin Cities this marks the third production for the 2022/2023 season that I’ve seen. The previous were two of her three cycle “Christmas at Pemberley” plays co-written with Margot Melcon, which were the highpoints of the holiday theatergoing season. Gunderson specializes in period and historical plays. The Revolutionists brings together playwright Olympe de Gouges, Charlotte Corday who assassinated Jacobin Leader Jean-Paul Marat, Marie Antoinette the Queen of France, and a creation of Gunderson’s own Marianne Angelle who was inspired by many black women who played important roles in the Haitian Revolution. The three real historical figures were all executed by Guillotine in 1793 during what is known as “The Reign of Terror”. The play revolves around the conceit that the three other women have come to Olympe de Gouges asking for her help as a writer. Marianne Angelle is a spy who is an old friend of Olympe and wants her to write pamphlets for her to circulate about her cause. Charlotte Corday has come to ask her to write her final words, she’s planning her assassination of Marat, and knows she will be caught, tried, and executed for it. She wants to have something to say that will be remembered after she is gone. Marie Antoinette has come expecting Gouges to write for her. All three of these women are taking an active part in their world whereas Olympe wants to remain in her room and write. By the end they will all inspire her to move out of her comfort zone and write what she believes. While the subject matter is decidedly grim, the play itself is a comedy but like all good comedies, it contains moments real emotion and drama.
The breakout performance for me was Jane Froiland as Marie Antoinette, it’s definitely the showiest role and the one with the broadest humor. She provokes the humor wonderfully while playing a character completely used to being the only thing of importance in the world. But she also finds some moments of emotional truth that are surprising, especially when speaking as a mother towards the end. The weakest performance for me was Alison Edwards, this is where the show just fell a little flat. I’ve seen Edwards give very good performances before and this isn’t bad, it just plays like someone saying lines too much of the time. She has one particularly good scene though in which she has an argument with Angelle where I thought for the first time she was really in the moment. Much of her characters humor is what we call meta, or relies on her talking almost to herself about her writing ideas, I think perhaps this style of humor just doesn’t come as naturally to Edwards, but it also strikes me as a really difficult assignment for any actor. I think part of the issue might be that her character is so passive for much of the play, by comparison the others come off as more dynamic and alive. Tia Marie Tanzer plays Marianne Angelle, the character is a doer and a risk taker and Tanzer plays her with confidence but also shows vulnerability as she worries about her husband who she has not heard word from in several weeks. Jasmine Porter plays Charlotte Corday, the most tragic of the characters and has a really powerful scene which she handles really well, breaking down under the knowledge of her own impending execution.
The Revolutionists is a co-production between Park Square Theatre and Prime Productions and is directed by Shelli Place. Place effectively stages the action making dramatic use of a long staircase leading up to the guillotine and the video projection. The set design by MJ Leffler is, as is always the case with Park Square Theatre productions, one of the highlights of the show. With a few simple changes and the assistance of the lighting design by Karin Olson we can be transported from Olympe’s rooms to a prison cell, to the guillotine. The projection designs by Lily Isaacson are sparingly but effectively used. Particularly the blade of the guillotine. Otherwise it’s mostly used to help sell whatever the environment is wherein the action is taking place. The costumes by Sonya Berloviz and wig designs by Bee Tremmel give the look and feel of the play a cohesive sense of period.
The Revolutionists runs through April 16th at Park Square Theatre in Downtown St. Paul for more information and to purchase tickets go to https://parksquaretheatre.org/box-office/shows/2022-2023/the-revolutionists/
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