By Ellen Wilson Dilks
“It is the nature of human beings, and especially of the mediocre ones,
to wish to change everything.”
~ Marie Antoinette
Theatre Horizon in Norristown continues their #WomenWhoDare season with a production of Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists.” Directed by Kathryn MacMillan, who is serving as Guest Artistic Director, performances continue now through February 25 at the company’s venue on DeKalb Street.
Lauren Gunderson was the most produced playwright in the US in 2017, which is not surprising. Her plays are smart, funny and filled with razor sharp commentary on politics and the treatment of women past and present. In “The Revolutionists,” she takes a little-known female French playwright Olympe de Gouge struggling to be heard during the infamous “Reign of Terror,” adds Haitian anti-slavery activist Marianne Angelle and young female assassin Charlotte Corday—who killed Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat. For good measure she throws in France’s most infamous queen, Marie Antoinette. Gunderson has whipped up a spicy comedic cake, frosted with biting socio-political commentary frighteningly relevant to America today.
Ms. MacMillan’s direction of this fast-paced romp is sure handed and well executed. Her ensemble of four is a talented group of actresses who attack the material with fierce joy. Charlotte Northeast’s Olympe is feisty and impassioned about being accepted in a male-dominated world. Ms. Northeast skillfully delivers the comedy and then grabs your heart during the dramatic moments. As Charlotte Corday, Claire Inie-Richards is both deadpan hilarious and gut-wrenchingly touching as the woman who murdered Marat to save thousands of her countrymen from the guillotine—only to end up there herself. Ms. Inie-Richards is a perfect foil for Ms. Northeast. Jaylene Clark Owens brings dignity to Marianne, but also deftly delivers the characters zingers with aplomb. She brings tremendous warmth and gravitas to her portrayal of this composite character who represents the struggles of women of color. Jessica Bedford shines as Marie Antoinette, flitting on the scene all ditziness and self-absorption. She then subtly takes the character on a journey of discovery, in the end showing us a woman who has matured and realized the troubles in the world. All four are wonderful to watch. Under Ms. MacMillan’s guidance, they have created highly imaginative, engaging and 3-dimensional characters.
“Women have the right to mount the scaffold; they should likewise have the right to mount the rostrum.”
~ Olympe de Gouges
Theatre Horizon’s technical aspects support the production beautifully. As the audience enters, they are greeted by Brian Dudkiewicz’s dappled-mirror and silver set. The walls are at odd angles, showing that the world is out of kilter for these people. Lily Fossner lights the action with great style and finesse, creating just the right moods throughout; the same can be said for Chris Colucci’s soundscape. Colucci nicely blends the whimsical with the ethereal. Lovely 18th century costumes are provided by the always spot-on Janus Stephanowicz, while Dale Nadel provides the necessary props. J. Alex Cordaro has choreographed the “fighting” action needed to convey the chaos of the Revolution, as well as the women’s captures. Scene changes are done smoothly and quickly by stage manager Chelsea Sanz and her crew.
“The Revolutionists” is a superb mix of uproarious comedy and high-stakes drama. Just like life. This fascinating glimpse of history (or, “herstory”) is, sadly, very timely. It shows that women have been struggling to be heard and respected pretty much since the dawn of time. Things have taken a giant step backwards in America in the past eighteen months, but women have decided enough is enough. The #metoo and “Times Up” movements are important and vital steps in the fight to win agency over our own destinies and full equality for all. Gunderson’s play is a great way of supporting that message.
I highly recommend you see this worthy production. You will be entertained and, hopefully, made to ponder your own part in making the world a better place.
When You Go: Theatre Horizon is located at 401 DeKalb Street in Norristown, PA 19401. “The Revolutionists” continues through February 25, with performances at varying times from Wednesdays to Sundays. There is a wealth of information regarding the play and the history it depicts on the company’s website: www.theatrehorizon.org. Patrons can also find performance dates and times, as well as other ticketing info on the site. The Box Office can be reached at 610-283-2230 or by e-mailing email@example.com The venue is handicapped accessible and there is street parking near the theatre.