The Unicorn Theatre closes the current season with The Revolutionists, a creative and fierce look at women’s influence in the French Revolution. It’s best appreciated (although not strictly necessary) if you know the basics of the French Revolution, and the characters in the show.
The show depicts the interactions of four women; three of them are historical figures. We first meet Olympe de Gouges (played by Vanessa Servero), a playwright and activist for women’s rights and abolitionism. She has given herself the task of writing a play that will make a powerful and lasting statement on the issues of the day. Olympe is visited by Marianne Angelle (Chioma Anyanwu), a free black woman working on anti-slavery issues. Marianne is not an actual historical person but represents many women like her at the time. Marianne wants Olympe to write some anti-slavery pamphlets.
Then Olympe is visited by Charlotte Corday (Elise Marie Poehling), on her way to assassinate the writer Jean-Paul Marat. Charlotte wants Olympe to write her last words that she can proclaim from the gallows after she is arrested and sentenced to death. While Olympe struggles with her unexpected visitors, Marie Antoinette (Amy Elizabeth Attaway) wanders in, lost and confused that she is no longer in power, and that people hate her. She wants Olympe to write a play about her, in which she looks more noble than she feels.
Of course, none of these women actually met each other in real life. But by putting them together in a room, and making their causes rush headlong into each other, we get a very informative, funny, and thoughtful story. And even though it is set in the French Revolution, the language is very contemporary, which hints that the playwright is making points that are still relevant today.
The cast is great - all four women seem to empathize with their roles and bring their own spice to the show. The standout performance, however, is Servero. Her portrayal of Olympe as an activist that doesn’t actually want to go anywhere steals several scenes.
The play is very funny in the first act. The cast delivers their lines with impeccable timing, and it is fascinating to see them so in sync with each other. The second act is quite a bit more tragic, as those who know about the real women may predict. It provides a look at what it really means to be dedicated to a cause, and to be a witness to the consequences of that cause.
In a time when gender equality is under renewed assault, this show reminds us that there have always been people fighting for women’s causes, and that we shouldn’t give up the fight. I highly recommend the play to anyone that likes the French Revolution or cares about gender equality. And isn’t that all of us?
The Revolutionists runs through June 30. For tickets and information, www.unicorntheatre.org