Okay, I have to admit right off the bat that I never met a play written by Lauren Gunderson that I didn’t like. The revolutionaries, now available in live and streaming formats on Colonial Players, is no exception. Directed by Jennifer Cooper, this exploration of the life of women during the French Revolution is touching and enlightening. We’re still talking about the men involved in the Reign of Terror, how this horrific movement consumed its supporters as it took its course, and how it led to the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. And yet, there were the women involved, as there always have been – the guillotine claimed all corners of society, including entire convents of nuns, activists and queens. All of these women were lost to a revolution that only strengthened the rights of the men around them.
The revolutionaries opens with the apartment of Olympe de Gouges, writer and social activist, played here by Mary C. Rogers. As the first act unfolds, we are greeted by two characters who hold an important place in French history: Marie-Antoinette (Ryan Gunning Harris) and Charlotte Corday (Carey Bibb). The fourth character is Marianne Angelle, played by the astonishing Samantha McEwen Deininger, who did not actually exist but is a composite character representing the free black women of the island of Santo Domingo.
Each of these women brings a different energy to this set and that makes for a great production. Rogers, as Gouges, is presumably restrained and frightened by the reality of her own power to impact history with her words. Bibb, like Corday, delivers the instability while reminding us of the injustice of Charlotte Corday’s trial. Harris’ comedic timing is impeccable as doomed Queen Marie Antoinette.
Marie-Antoinette, in particular, bears the brunt of the responsibility for the misconduct of men during the Revolution. We often forget that this woman – still a child when she was married to the King of France! – had almost no control over her situation and the political decisions in which her husband was involved. ? So many heavy questions to which this piece does not shy away, forcing the spectator to question his own presuppositions about the events of the story.
It’s no secret that the telling of the story is controlled and constructed by the victors. More recently, these “victors” have been white western males. This brings me to the character of Marianne Angelle. As I mentioned, Angelle was not a real person but a composite character. Is it sad that we don’t have enough information about the free black women of Haiti (formerly Santo Domingo) to even have a real person embodied in this role? Someone knows the names of these women and Deininger plays the character so well that he will certainly ignite the spark of curiosity in the hearts of audiences. It’s so refreshing to see a role for black women that contains both moments of purposeful strength and heartbreaking vulnerability. Deininger nails these two extremes in a convincing and credible way.
The acting and the content are a highlight of this production. There are a lot of other things to love here, especially the setting by Richard Atha-Nicholls and the costumes created by Amy Atha-Nicholls. There are a number of technical effects that use projections. Designers Wes Bedsworth and Bill Reinhardt have done a great job using the technology at their disposal and the 360 degree space in which they work.
With a talented cast and gripping storyline, the production of Colonial Players The revolutionaries is a must. Looking at the plight of women through the ages helps us reflect on how far we have come and how far we still have to go. This production is almost perfect and will give audiences something to think about long after they’ve left the theater.
Duration: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
The revolutionaries plays until October 2, 2021, Thursday through Sunday, at the historic Th Colonial Players Theater in the heart of downtown Annapolis, 108 East Street Annapolis, MD. Tickets are $ 23 for adults; $ 18 for people aged 65 and over, full-time students with ID and serving military personnel with ID. The revolutionaries will be broadcast live via Broadway OnDemand. Tickets for live and streaming shows can be purchased in line by calling the ticket office at 410-268-7373 and selecting option 2.
Four Badass “Revolutionary” Women to Kick off Colonial Players’ 73rd Season