by Lauren Gunderson
Marianne Galloway as Olympe de Gouge
Jennifer Keunzer as Marie Antoinette
Sky Williams as Marianne Angelle
Dani Holway as Charlotte Corday
Directed by Joe Messina & Ashley H. White
Stage Manager – Lauren Simpson
Dramaturg – Kyle Eric Bradford
Scenic Design – Ellen Mizener
Costume Design – Jessie Wallace
Hair and Makeup Design – Michael B. Moore
Lighting Design – Hannah Winkler
Light Board Operator – Cynthia Beane
Sound Design – Riley Larson
Reviewed Performance: 7/20/2018
Reviewed by Stacey Upton, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Do yourself a favor and snag a ticket to this production at the Margo Jones theatre at Fair Park. Take a friend or two, they’ll thank you. This energetic, fun, and ultimately moving show is the third in Imprint Theatreworks’ inaugural season. It’s a great pick. “The Revolutionists” boasts an outstanding ensemble cast of four kick-ass actresses who joyfully OWN the torrent of words and physical action contained in this fast-paced comedy. Well, it’s mostly a comedy. A play that begins and ends with a hungry guillotine can’t be a knee slapper the whole way through. The experience of this play is like being in a small boat on an unpredictable sea, full of conflicting currents, waves of emotion, and sudden swivels that made the audience shout in laughter or sigh in understanding. The incredible production team, directing team, and impeccable cast steer us confidently through this adventure. It’s a fantastic night at the theatre. If you’d like an object lesson on how true ensemble work can light up a stage and make you glad to be alive, see this play.
The play, written by Lauren Gunderson, is a self-aware tale about the French Revolution in 1793. It takes glee in pointing out similarities between what happened 225 years ago and what is happening in our current political/social scene. The French Revolution’s objectives of ‘Liberte, Egalite, and Fraternite’ do not include rights for women or people of color, and four female historical rebels are hell-bent on changing that. “The Revolutionists” is a sparkling ensemble piece based on three real-life women, and one amalgam of a real women all of whom were eventually killed by the sharp blade of the Revolution. The play is hyper-aware of itself as a theatrical construct and misses no opportunity to keep the audience in on the joke. The production is uniquely engaging because of it. The playwright uses a torrent of words in all shapes and sizes; letters, declarations, final words before death, and hilarious references to that other musical version of the French Revolution to keep the audience entertained and engaged.
The four actresses charged with delivering this meaty material are more than up to the task. They are transcendent in their takedown of each whip-smart exchange. We first meet Olympe de Gouge played by Marianne Galloway. As the writer of the play within the play, this is very much her story. Galloway’s character undergoes the largest transformation, reluctantly moving from being an angst-ridden self-centered, blocked playwright to outspoken revolutionary hero. Olympe doesn’t want to be a hero and is terrified throughout much of the proceedings. “I’m not brave, I’m just loquacious,” she protests when she realizes that she must follow through on her convictions if her story is to be remembered. Galloway is gorgeously relentless in this role, a mistress of the tumble of words that belong to her. Physically she leaps and rolls around the stage, using every muscle in her body to artfully convey her inner turmoil or alternatively her joy and excitement of creation. Her final moments are profoundly moving. She also has impeccable comedic timing.
Her friend Marianne Angelle portrayed by the excellent Sky Williams is the most grounded of the four women, and often is their moral compass. She handles the fireworks created by Olympe and the others with panache. She knows who she is, what she is about and holds her purpose – that all men and women, no matter their color are created equal - firmly in front of her. This doesn’t stop Marianne from being completely human. Her moments describing her husband and her family are the most beautiful in the play. Williams rocks this character, offering the audience the gift of her wide range of true emotion from snappy sass to genuine heartbreak. Williams has us in love with her portrayal of Marianne from her first withering side-eye and snide “GIRL” retort.
Salty and stunning bad girl Charlotte Corday is beautifully embodied by Dani Holway. Firmly convinced that Marat is a “bad guy,” she is boldly going to murder him in his bath. Corday knows she won’t get away with his assassination and has come to Olympe seeking some pithy final words. Holway bounds onto the stage, filling it with Corday’s earthy energy and robust anger. Her passion and singleness of purpose wins over both the writer and Marianne as friends. The actress artfully uses her talents to embody what could be a cartoonish character in the wrong hands. Holway manages to make the earthy, slightly crazed Corday someone we truly care about. Her facile face can turn from icy to merry in a heartbeat, and she manages to dance on the edge of madness with a delightful twinkle.
Marie Antoinette as played by Jennifer Kuenzer is perhaps the biggest surprise. Within moments of her hilarious entrance, Marie Antoinette makes it clear that there is a lot more to her character than someone who delights in eating cake. In Kuenzer’s masterful portrayal, we see her as a human being struggling to understand her people in an impossible situation. Alternating between vapid innocence and occasional profound moments, Kuenzer’s use of her vocal tone and physicality is impressive. While often giggly and girlish, she can snap out a command at the drop of a hat. Antoinette is a veritable mama bear when it comes to her children and shows tender kindness in other moments. We come to love this character, and thus her ultimate death becomes poignant and tragic.
These four actresses expertly wrestle the play to the ground with ferocity and humor. Their ability to listen to one another, and share the stage graciously is a delight. They are clearly FOR each other every moment onstage and are having fun with this verbally challenging idea piece. They are fearless in their attack, but also remind us that Revolutions certainly need a woman’s touch.
The production makes excellent use of the intimacy of the Margo Jones black box theatre. The thrust staging includes the audience in key moments, heightening the effect of pulling us into the French Revolution. The direction of this outstanding ensemble cast has been adroitly shared by Joe Messina & Ashley H. White. White has the added benefit of being a certified Fight Choreographer, so while the actresses fling themselves with abandon over furniture and across the small stage, we are never worried for their safety. The directors seamlessly have worked together and created a rollicking show filled with the slamming doors of farce, mask work, representational theatre, music, and used their uber-talented cast to create a vivacious and spectacular piece of art.
Scene design by Ellen Doyle Mizener captures the moment in time beautifully with its watered green silk walls, historical portraits of the four women, and (thankfully) solid antique furniture that can withstand this active production. She has appropriately made it grungy around the edges, giving us insight that luxurious beauty is on the decline. Lighting design by Hannah Winkler is effectively used to convey mood and place, and some well-timed color shifts add much to the drama of this play. Hair and makeup by Michael B. Moore shine in this production and make a huge contribution to creating these unique characters. The costumes by Jessie Wallace are visual delights. They are both effective and practical, mixing modern pieces of clothing with period ones. The Sound Design by Riley Larson kicked in as we got our seats – rock anthems by female rock and roll singers, which set the right mood. Stage manager Lauren Simpson was kept hopping in this whirlwind production and is to be congratulated, along with everyone else.
This is simply a marvelous piece of theatre from start to finish. The production team even has ribbon-wrapped “let them eat cake” snacks in the lobby for intermission and has provided lots of interesting history in the program. They really have thought of everything, and that vision has paid off in one of the best shows this critic has seen in a long time. This play is suitable for older teens on up.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS by Lauren Gunderson
Presented by Imprint Theatreworks
At the Margo Jones Theatre in the Magnolia Lounge at Fair Park
1121 1st Ave, Dallas TX 75210
Performance Dates: Jul 20th, 21st, 27th, 28th, Aug 3rd, Aug 4th at 8pm. Matinees Jul 21, 28, Aug 4th at 2pm.