Bec Willett is an Australian, Chicago-based director, designer, educator, and writer. She has worked on projects with an array of Chicago theater companies, including 20% Theatre, Chicago Dramatists, City Lit, Dandelion Theatre, Prologue Theatre, and Waltzing Mechanics. To find out more about her work and upcoming projects, please visit becwillett.com.
Pictured: Sarah Goeden, Izis Mollinedo, Kat McDonnell and Kamille Dawkins. Photo by Collin Quinn Rice.
By Bec Willett
The women of Lauren Gunderson’s THE REVOLUTIONISTS never met in reality but they all died in the same way: at the guillotine, fighting for what they believe in. This is a play that imagines what might have happened if historical figures playwright Olympe De Gouges (Kat McDonnell), freedom fighter Marianne Angelle (Kamille Dawkins), assassin Charlotte Corday (Izis Mollinedo), and Queen Marie Antoinette (Sarah Goeden) had met before they were condemned. Through a dramatized collage of fact, song, and spoken word this play strives to link the fight of the women of the French revolution with those of today.
Grasping Gunderson’s play requires an audience to think, not just because of the complexly interwoven styles and relationships but also due to the questions it poses. Is theater only for rich people? Does art make a difference? What stories haven’t been written down because the person was of the wrong gender or color or class? While the text ensures that these questions take aim, this production falters in its clarity to communicate and shape them for maximum impact. This is particularly the case with the performances in which the script and direction require the actors to walk the tightrope between the historical and the contemporary, utilizing and integrating acting techniques from both restoration comedy and realism. Whereas McDonnell and Goeden nail this balance, leading us on a nuanced journey that artfully evokes precisely-timed empathy and laughter, the rest of the cast struggle to take their performances beyond one-note.
While the performances are at times tepid, the design is not. Claire Chrzan’s lighting at work with Alex Casilla’s gothic marbled set invokes the textures and shapes of the history but uses the neon colors of LEDs to bring us into the digital age. Leah Hummel’s costumes provide the same balance, articulately conceptualized in all-white, offering shapes, fabrics, and lines that are both past and present, invoking both the status of class with the irony of hindsight.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS is a highly-relevant script for the time and place we live in. While Strawdog’s production struggles to fully communicate the power and complexity of this script, the strength of the text assures its place in current socio-political discourse.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS runs through December 29th. For more information visit strawdog.org.