Silicon Valley to the World – Playwright Olympe de Gouges has quite the 1793 dilemma: how to tell the stories of three women making moves bold enough to send them to the guillotine while also saving herself from that same demise. Set in the time of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, “The Revolutionists” is modern-day playwright Lauren Gunderson’s brilliant remembrance of real women in history who might otherwise remain obscure.
The history- or HER-story- goes like this: playwright de Gouges (Gabriella Goldstein) is hard at work and agonizing over her latest play when there is pounding at her door. Enter Haitian spy Marianne Angelle (played with just the right amount of sass and also woman wisdom by Kimberly Ridgeway) who is seeking a place to hide. Working against the French-imposed slavery of Caribbean citizens, Angelle is also seeking de Gouge’s scribing assistance for propaganda for the movement.
Their girlfriends’ catch-up is short-lived when Charlotte Corday (Katherine Hamilton) shows up, also seeking de Gouge’s writerly assistance but for the creation of the Last Words she knows she will need after she’s murdered Jean-Paul Marat. Corday’s plan- stealthy and bloody- seems in no way unacceptable given the loathsomeness of her victim. Her demeanor- slight and pretty like a tiny angel- gives us further reason to overlook her gruesome intentions and fall in “like” with her as martyr for the cause.
This, then, gives excellent timing for the appearance of Marie-Antoinette (Olga Molina) who is completely oblivious to the (certainly not insignificant!) needs of those around her. Seeking consolation for seemingly the most ridiculous of small personal issues, while also glossing over some pretty major life events, Marie-Antoinette succeeds in endearing herself as a buffoon. So, then, we find we love all the characters, but perhaps we enjoy most laughing at the ways in which Marie-Antoinette’s character tries to make herself- the unloved queen- just “one of us girls.”
From beginning to end this show offers a wonderful combination of intelligence, humor, sarcasm, and even a nip or two of stinging wit. At the same time, we’re given an up-close- sometime in one’s face- view of how women can commit themselves to a thing that is not only beyond them but, perhaps, even beyond the sum of their committed few such that they take that uncomfortable action necessary for social change. Beyond that, we’re also reminded- yet again- of the importance of the true recording of history. In the words of the character Angelle as she shares what she knows to be true about the executioners of the time hovering at that guillotine they all could face: “If you don’t write this down, they will- and that’s how they win…”
Pacing in this show is vite, vite, vite, and time flies because there’s too much fun going on to notice anything else. Fabulous direction by Tessa Corrie, including rapid-fire delivery of lines and significant body language to send home even further meaning to the lines than within the lines, themselves. Terrific set by Scott Ludwig. Wonderful period costumes are supplied by Lisa Claybaugh. While these come in the form, of course, of dresses with crinolines or similar, they are pretty yet practical. While each character has her own style of garment, indicative of class structure at that time, Claybaugh’s choices of fabrics and colors for each woman are unique while also blending with one another.
The online production, coming through Broadway on Demand, is quite excellent. Sound quality, sometimes a problem in translation from stage to small screen, is more than very good. Further, camera work- which can sometimes be murky when going stage-to-screen- is quite excellent as provided by John Parenica of 2nd/20 Productions Video for the Performing Arts.
Playing Live through November 21 (hurry!) at the Lucie Stern Auditorium in Palo Alto, and also streaming on demand November 18-21, Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists” sparkles with intelligence, wit, and even a bravado that is not to be trifled with insofar as its potential inspiration for own time: women taking a stand for what we believe in, willing, even, to die for that stand…
Playwright: Lauren Gunderson
Director: Tessa Corrie
Olympe de Gouges: Gabriella Goldstein
Marianne Angelle: Kimberly Ridgeway
Charlotte Corday: Katherine Hamilton
Marie-Antoinette: Olga Molina
Costume Designer: Lisa Claybaugh
Hair & Make-up:
Set Designer: Scott Ludwig
Sound: Jeff Grafton
Lighting: Edward Hunter
Lucie Stern Auditorium,1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, CA
“The Revolutionists” runs two (2) hours with one intermission. Those watching On Demand can watch as long as they like, stopping and starting as needed/desired.
For tickets and information call: 650/329-0891 or visit: paplayers.org
All images and video courtesy of and used with permission of Palo Alto Players
A Review of 2021 at Palo Alto Playhouse here: