Preview: Harlequin’s The Revolutionists by Laura Gunderson at The State Theater

by James O’Barr

Left to right: Amanda Kemp as Marianne Angelle, Helen Harvester as Marie Antionette, Victoria Austin as Charlotte Corday, and Angela DiMarco as Olympe de Gouges.

According to American Theatre Magazine, Lauren Gunderson has been America’s most produced playwright for most of the past six years. Who knew? Apparently Aaron Lamb and Lauren Love did. Lamb, Producing Artistic Director of Harlequin, and Love, Artistic Director of the Theater Collective at South Puget Sound Community College, had both been eager to bring Gunderson’s 2017 comedy, The Revolutionists, to their respective stages. In the end, Harlequin offered Love her first opportunity to direct for the State Theatre stage after many years of bringing consistently stellar productions of mostly contemporary theatre to the Minnaert Center at SPSCC. Olympians will get a chance to see what the fuss is all about when The Revolutionists opens at the State Theatre for a three-week run on Friday, September 8.

Gunderson spells out her intentions for the play in the subtitle: A Comedy, A Quartet, A Revolutionary Dream Fugue, A True Story. Truth to tell, the story takes place in 1793, during the French Revolution. With civil war spreading and hostile armies surrounding France on all sides, the Revolutionary government decided to make “terror” the order of the day and to take harshest measures against those suspected of being enemies of the Revolution. Also true, three of the four women, Olympe de Gouges, a writer, Charlotte Corday, a would-be assassin, and Marie Antoinette, former Queen, were alive at that time, were arrested and tried, and sent to the guillotine. The fourth woman, Marianne Angelle, answers to the truth of the playwright’s imagination: She is from San Domingue, the French colony in the Caribbean that was fighting to end its slavery regime and would stage its own revolution and finally gain independence in 1804, renaming itself Haiti. “Marianne” is also the name the French have given to an imaginary female who personifies the nation, the symbol of France itself.

Clockwise left to right: Angela DiMarco, Victoria Austin, Amanda Kemp, and Helen Harvester.

de Gouges announces at the opening that she has an idea for a new play, a comedy, and much of the play follows her attempts to right/write the wrongs of the Revolution in a play “about women showing the boys how revolutions are done,” a “passionate sociopolitical comedy about women’s rights,” as a result of which “we shall all gather as one community, to experience our collective stories.” A revolutionary dream fugue to be sure, a play within the play, written, of course, in the shadow of the guillotine. But, she muses, “That’s not a way to start a comedy. That’s just basic dramatic writing: Don’t start with beheadings.” Gunderson insists, however, that her play is a comedy, though the characters themselves don’t know it. But we in the audience know, because the lines and the jokes come fast and furious, and in a punchy contemporary language that would be at home in a sit-com or a buddy movie. But don’t classical comedies typically end with a group celebration, with music and dance and the reintegration of everyone into the group, with a recommitment to their shared life together? The context here, of course, is the terror that ruled at the time, enforced by “hyper-violent hypocritical male rhetoric.”  Gunderson’s “Revolutionary Dream Fugue” is the original promise of the revolution revealed by her four women, The Quartet, and the possibility of sisterhood and woman power across lines of color and class and gender. And it begins and ends on the scaffold, with a song.

Clockwise left to right: Victoria Austin, Helen Harvester, Angela DiMarco, and Amanda Kemp.

Angela DiMarco returns to Harlequin as Olympe de Gouges, writer and activist. Olympe wrote some forty plays, most famously, the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen, in which she challenged the practice of male authority and advocated for equal rights for women. Victoria Austin makes her Harlequin debut as Charlotte Corday, a righteous country girl who became convinced that the Revolutionary government was leading France down a dark and bloody path and decided to assassinate the Jacobin propagandist Jean-Paul Marat. The government’s response? The Reign of Terror.

Helen Harvester adds to her long and illustrious list of Harlequin appearances as Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, who not only suffered the fate of other women who’ve wielded political power (remember “Lock her up!”), but lost her head in the process. Amanda Kemp returns to the State Theater as Marianne Angelle, a native revolutionary from the French Caribbean colony of San Domingue, working in Paris as a spy on the government, looking for critical intelligence to send home. She is shocked to find that Marie Antoinette is the only one to see her clearly. She may be a figment of de Gouges’s imagination.

Lobby artist Marine Zuloyan.

Could The Revolutionists be a figment of de Gouges’s imagination as she faces the guillotine? If so, who might her audience be? Let’s let Gunderson have the last word here: “This is a universal story told in the hearts and bodies of women. They are not perfect, they are all flawed and struggling and tough, and they are funny as hell. The play is about a moment in history where the rich and the poor were lightyears apart in lifestyle, the country was in multiple wars, the debt was huge, the leaders were corrupt and greedy, there was racism, sexism, poverty, violence, and extremism. The only difference between them and us is the year and the continent.”

Lobby artist Marine Zuloyan  

Paintings by Armenian-born artist  Marine Zuloyan will be on display in the State Theater lobby during the run of The Revolutionists. There will be an artist’s reception Thursday, Sept. 7  in the State Theater Lobby. All are welcome! Light refreshments will be served. 

Photography by Shanna Paxton Photography.

The Revolutionists

7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday Sept. 8-23, artist reception 5:30-6:30 p.m. Sept 7

Harlequin Productions, State Theater, 202 4th Avenue East, Olympia

General $43 • Senior/Military $40 • Student/Youth $28 Groups 6+ $34.40
Rush Tickets and Pay-What-You-Choose

(360) 786-0151