Saturday, April 1, 2023

"The Revolutionists" at Park Square Theatre

"Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?" This quote from Hamilton (coming to Minneapolis next week) could also describe Park Square Theatre and Prime Productions' co-production of The Revolutionists. Both pieces are a more inclusive retelling of history, both take place in the late 18th century, both feature citizens staging a revolution to make their country a better place. The Revolutionists is the story of four historical women in the French Revolution, so "who dies" is most of them (Madame Guillotine comes for us all in the end), and "who tells your story" is Lauren Gunderson, one of the most produced playwrights in the country and one of my favorites. She has a knack for writing historical women as if they were alive today, with modern language and experiences that relate directly to today's world. Her dialogue sparkles with wit and meaning, her characters are real and fully rounded people, and this fantastic four-person cast brings them to vivid life on Park Square's stage. Sadly, this will be the last play on that stage for the foreseeable future; Park Square has cancelled the remainder of their season to regroup and recover from a couple of tough years, and hopefully come back stronger next season. So don't miss this chance to see their always great work, this time made better by collaboration with Prime Productions, a company that focuses on telling stories by about women in their prime. The Revolutionists is another in a series of smart, successful, entertaining collaborations this #TCTheater season (continuing through April 16 only).

the assassin (Jasmine Porter), the writer (Alison Edwards),
and the queen (Jane Froiland, photo by Tomas Leal)
The Revolutionists imagines the meeting of three historical women all killed (spoiler alert) in the French Revolution in 1793 and a character inspired by real-life women of the era. Feminist playwright Olympe de Gouges opens the play struggling to write a play (creating some delightfully meta moments). She meets a free Black woman from Haiti fighting for the freedom of her people, would-be assassin Charlotte Corday, and the deposed Queen of France Marie Antoinette, all of whom inspire her writing in some way. The women discuss freedom, art, politics, activism, and family in a refreshingly modern way with intentional anachronisms and much humor, despite the darkness of the situation.*

Shelli Place directs this incredible cast and nicely balances the bright humor with the deadly serious nature of the revolution. Alison Edwards is strong, funny, and relatable as Olympe, the writer struggling to find her story. Tia Marie Tanzer is the courageous Marriane, sacrificing herself for the good of her people. Jasmine Porter plays the young and somewhat unsure assassin, who fully knows the consequences of what she's about to do, and does it anyway. Last but not least, Jane Froiland's Marie Antoinette starts off as silly and frivolous (constantly remarking on how hiLARious things are), but shows a greater depth (which Jane also showed when she played this same queen in Walking Shadow Theatre's production of Marie Antoinette). Whether solo, in pairs, or as a group, all of these actors bring humanity and depth to their roles, and work and play together well.

Marie Antoinette and Marriane Angelle
(Jane Froiland and Tia Marie Tanzer, photo by Tomas Leal)
Oversized set pieces fill Park Square's stage, including a large vertical screen on which projections of a chandelier against wallpaper, or the Paris sky seen under the blade of a bloody guillotine, are seen. The massive wooden door on the left is paired on the other side of the stage by a wooden staircase leading to the gallows, a walk which most of the women take. In between are Olympe's writing desk and a few other period appropriate pieces of furniture. Trunks, crates, and other odds and ends can be seen behind the screen and staircase, as can characters crossing to make their entrance, adding to the meta feel. The period costumes are gorgeous and character specific, from Olympe's pants and jacket, to Marie's wide-skirted pink satin. (Set design by MJ Leffler, costume design by Sonya Berlovitz, projection design by Lily Isaacson.)

A lot of revolutions fall short, including our own. They make some great changes, but then become corrupted with power, or leave out a segment of the population. The Revolutionists shows us women who were trying to right that wrong, to make it a better, more inclusive, and less violent revolution. It shows us the power of women, a power that has been overlooked and ignored throughout history, and still today. As one surprising character wisely notes in the play, "we won't know the rightness of our revolution or the heroes of our stories for generations." Time has proven these women to be heroes, and it's delightful to hear their stories in their own voices, or as the talented Lauren Gunderson imagines them.