BETC’s “The Revolutionists”: An Égalité of Sororité
Gabrielle DeCristofaro • September 12, 2017 • Art •
The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company (BETC) is kicking off their 12th season on Sat., Sept. 16 with “The Revolutionists” in The Dairy Arts Center’s Grace Gamm Theatre. This smart and witty comedy puts a modern spin on the stories of the women of the French Revolution during the Reign of Terror. Written by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Allison Watrous, BETC has put together an all-female cast and production team to let everyone know that revolutions aren’t just for men.
“The Revolutionists” depicts the lives of four real women of the Revolution from a range of classes and backgrounds. Gunderson is known for taking lesser known, yet very important, historical figures, and brining them back to light. First, we have Olympe de Gouges (Rebecca Remaly), a socialite playwright who is approached by the three other women to write their histories. Next, we are introduced to Marianne Angelle (Jada Suzanne Dixon), a free black women from the Caribbean working in Paris as a spy, believing it’s hypocritical for France to continue to have slave colonies, while they are also fighting for their own equality. A slightly more well-known character in this play is Charlotte Corday (Maire Higgins), an assassin who murders journalist Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub. She is a country girl that sticks to her convictions. And finally, you can’t have a play about the women of the French Revolution without the former Queen of France, Marie Antoinette (Adrian Egolf). She is used as a vehicle to explain some of the causes of the French Revolution.
This play is extremely self-aware and is considerate of representation. Olympe, as a playwright, is aware that she is writing about the French Revolution, and battles between keeping it light, and keeping it true. She knows that the other three women need words, and that she must provide those words for them. While Olympe understands the importance of such representation, so does Gunderson. She expresses in this play that in times of crisis, we need art.
Gunderson, the most-produced living American playwright, continues to have her work produced by BETC because Stephen Weitz, BETC’s Producing Artistic Director, is a true believer in her work.
“I think she’s a fantastic voice in American theater right now,” Weitz says. “I’m particularly drawn to the way that she uses history as a lens to examine current issues or brings little known historical figures to light in a way that makes it fresh and exciting.”
When asked about the relevance of the French Revolution in relation to today, Weitz agrees that it is right in front of us: “When it feels like your society or country is coming apart at the seams, how do we A, support each other through those times, and B, how do we find our individual paths that are fulfilling and meaningful and powerful in the moment?
“The play is so much about empowerment and how women find their voices in these moments that are historically dominated by men, as so many of these situations are,” Weitz continues. “So, we thought it was a really great opportunity to give voice to a lot of the great female artists we have in the area.”
“Particularly anything besides costumes is really male dominated,” Remaly, who plays Olympe, explains. “I do feel like there is a bit of a shift now, but when you look at the theatrical canon of producible plays for regional theater is predominantly male.”
While Gunderson is known for writing about lesser-known historical figures, particularly women, as with last year’s BETC production of “Silent Sky”, Remaly feels that because of this she is given some freedom in her representation of Olympe.
“Maybe two percent of the audience is going to come actually having heard of her beforehand,” Remaly says. “She’s a sort of blank slate, with the audience’s perceptions.”
And Egolf, in regards to her portrayal of Marie Antoinette, says it’s her turn to “take a crack at it.” She explains, “So many people have played her, and there have been so many different incarnations of plays and so much is talked about Marie Antoinette, and I think Lauren Gunderson in this play is so good about pointing that out: The caricature versus the real person. The gossip versus the truth behind the character…. I think Lauren did a ton of research, even down to the fact that her last words were apologizing for stepping on somebody’s foot.”
Now is as good a time as any for a play like this to be produced in any regional theater in America, but Remaly thinks there are some pertinent messages of action for Boulderites:
“I know a lot of people in Boulder think… revolutions needn’t be so bloody, that they can be kind and creative, and I think there really is a humanistic tendency to use violence to create big change. Is that the only way? Probably not. Can we get out of it? The cycle of history tells you, maybe not.”
While we go into the play knowing the fates of these women with the great equalizer, the guillotine, it is the humor and the surprising script that keeps us on our toes. With the modern script juxtaposed with period costumes, these women’s stories have become more accessible to the theater-going audiences. These badass and brave women are all enthusiastic and passionate about their causes and who they are, and navigate their stories with mutual support and sisterhood.
The Revolutionists is running from September 14 – October 8 in the Grace Gamm Theater at the Dairy Arts Center!