Right now in Schenectady two companion stagings, of a sort, are on view: “Hamilton” at Proctors and “The Revolutionists” at Schenectady Civic Players.
Companions? How so? History told in fresh and not-so-tidy ways, the former, as you know, a huge over-the-top musical; and the other, as the play’s subtitle says, “a comedy, a quartet, a revolutionary dream fugue, a true story.”
See both and have your mind expanded.
“The Revolutionists” is Lauren Gunderson’s 2017 imaginative tale of the events in France during the retributive Reign of Terror that follows the Revolution of 1789.
The hungry guillotine hangs upstage. Next? Might it be Charlotte Corday (Jennifer Lefsyk), assassin of Jean-Paul Marat?
Marie Antoinette (Kelly Sienkiewicz), deposed monarch?
Feminist playwright Olympe de Gouges (Laura Darling)?
Or Marianne Angelle (Monet Thompson-Young), a young Caribbean woman who ironically represents the revolution in the French colony of what later becomes Haiti?
Gunderson plays fast and loose and thrillingly with fact, fiction, metatheatrics, anachronistic language, etc. Act I is a comedic tour de force of playwriting, and the production, under Jennifer Van Iderstyne’s insightful and passionate direction (with Jean Carney’s assistance), gives the script its all. The actors don’t miss a beat, yet they find just enough quiet and slow moments to highlight the ideas beneath the zaniness.
Act II does not measure up to the pleasures of Act I, and while I trust Gunderson’s judgment to try for something different tonally as things get increasingly serious, I am not convinced the shift works. Too didactic? Perhaps. I confess to slight shoulder-slumping.
The cast is first-rate. Four women of different classes, interests, races, and ages meet and spar, partly because each woman has a particular agenda for this revolution. Angell, a woman of color from across the Atlantic, is a firebrand, and Thompson-Young’s depiction of her no-nonsense approach to the idea of social change is properly energetic.
Corday is equally single-minded in her conviction of what she has to do: kill the monster. Yet the 24-year-old Corday is, in Lefsyk’s believable portrayal, alternately fragile, strong, right-minded, uncertain and alone.
To Sienkewicz falls the character who comes the furthest, the bubble-brained, bewigged, beauty from Austria whose arranged royal marriage in France makes her heedless of her subjects and headless thanks to them. Sienkewicz has a ball playing this 18th-century Valley Girl who stops taking selfies and finds sisterhood.
It’s de Gouges’s play, really. That is, she’s trying to write one; then she’s in the one she’s writing; then she ends up delivering her best lines in real life to the nasty and sexist National Assembly. From the beginning, Darling superbly sets the mad pace and ultimately provides the gravitas that Gunderson is after.
How far these four characters come to connection is revealed at last in touch: hand-holding and hugs are the visual and affecting clues.
The show is produced by Kathy Friscic, and it’s a handsome mounting: a multi-leveled set by lighting designer David Zwierankin, decorated by Kathryn Fore; period costumes and wigs by Beth Ruman and John Fowler, respectively; and props by Danielle Woodruff. Elise Charlebous is the sound and light board operator, and the entire production is stage managed by Sara Baldwin.
At one point, Marie says, “When writers give up, all is lost.”
In this, Women’s History Month, Gunderson’s script highlights her responsibility to her craft: “The play is feminist and it should be intersectional. This is a universal story told in the hearts and bodies of women.”
WHERE: Schenectady Civic Players, 12 C. Church St.
WHEN: through Mar. 26
HOW MUCH: $25
MORE INFO: 518.382.2081, or civicplayers.org
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Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts