It’s always incredibly refreshing to sit down to a play written by a woman, about women. The most-produced living playwright in the United States this season, Lauren Gunderson, has created a witty ode to female strength and agency with her new play, “The Revolutionists,” currently running with a cast of four Resident Company actors at the Everyman Theatre.
Set in 1793 in the midst of the French Revolution, Olympe De Gouges, a feminist playwright played by Megan Anderson, is visited by Marianne Angelle, a spy (Dawn Ursula) working for freedom for those living in the Caribbean; Charlotte Corday, the assassin (Emily Kester) of journalist Jean-Paul Marat; and Marie Antoinette (Beth Hylton), the recently dethroned queen of France at the time.
These women mingle in and out of De Gouges’s life, asking her to remember them and memorialize them even as she is trying to write her own story and stake her own claim as an independent woman of the Revolution. She begins the play suffering from writer’s block and uses Marianne Angelle, Charlotte Corday, and Marie Antoinette as inspiration for her work.
If you can get past the overused “writer’s block” trope, “The Revolutionists” is striking both in its social commentary and comedy. It makes use of recurring jokes, almost reducing its characters to parody before dragging them up from one-dimension and helping them find their own voice, typically written by De Gouges herself.
Kester plays a passionate Corday and delivers some of the funniest lines of the night—her standout being that killing a journalist makes her an editor—and Hylton creates a deeply human Antoinette as she interacts with Ursula’s Angelle. Her death scene—each woman’s story, except Angelle’s, ends with the guillotine—is one of the most poignant and beautiful parts of the play, the French flag unfurling behind her as her wig is taken off.
David Burdick, once again, does an incredibly job with costume design. Each woman has a distinct style that so closely matches her personality: Corday wears blue Dr. Martens and a ripped up plaid dress, giving her a distinctly “edgy” assassin vibe, and De Gouges finds herself outfitted in a pantsuit and ascot that both foreshadows her final scene and exudes literary style.
Daniel Ettinger has created a beautiful set, and while he has done an incredible job with projections, the guillotine in particular feels lost in the aesthetic of the show, but C. Andrew Mayer, sound designer, and Elizabeth Harper, lighting designer, manage to pull it all back together.
It wouldn’t be a play with Marie Antoinette without at least one wig, and Anne Nesmith has done a spectacular job with Antoinette’s wigs and the others in the show.
If “The Revolutionists” feels a bit preachy sometimes, it’s likely because 1793 was an era where feminist statements needed to be said aloud for the first time, and as the actors discover this voice so innate to the twentieth century, they manage to make it fresh and new and not overly sermonizing.
“The Revolutionists” is running through January 7 at the Everyman Theatre. Along with standard student ticket pricing, Everyman is offering a “Girls’ Night Out Package” featuring four tickets to see “The Revolutionists,” plus a bottle of wine and some macarons.