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THEATER REVIEW Monsieur D'eon Is a Woman
by Brian Kirst

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Playwright: Mark Brownell.

At: Trap Door Theatre at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland Ave. Tickets: $20-$25; . Runs through: June 30

Chevailere D'eon has to be one of history's most fascinating figures.

A soldier and a spy for King Louis XV of France in the 18th century, she charmed and intrigued Russia's Elizabeth I and England's King George III. Although distinguished by acts of bravery, controversy eventually surrounded her. Living as a man for 49 years, rumors persisted about her gender. Bets were even placed through the London Stock Exchange to determine her true gender—a contest in which D'eon was one of the invitees. Her courage and strength, despite these indignities, has ensured her place as an early, celebrated figure for transgender and women's rights.

In Monsieur D'eon Is a Woman, being given a colorful push by Trap Door Theatre, playwright Mark Brownell takes the compelling narrative of D'eon's life and creates a friendly romp, full of energetic twists and turns. D'eon, who lived out her last 33 years as a woman, died in poverty, earning a living by performing acts of swordplay in a sideshow act. But whether Brownell is detailing her glory years as a celebrated citizen of the court or her time living in squalor with a devoted female companion, it is always done with a sense of humor and respect. In fact, Brownell only goes astray with the prurient humor that he assigns to other members of the ensemble, particularly with an overtly lewd King Louis XV. Despite the rambunctious nature of the piece, the juvenility of these actions consistently falls flat here.

This misstep, thankfully, does not spoil the show as a whole. The devoted energy that director Nicole Weisner and her athletic ensemble bring to the proceedings always keeps the audience intrigued and their mission to give D'eon a full and loving tribute is always in evidence. Notably, flexible costuming by Rachel M. Sypniewski imbues things with a touch of everything from DC Comics to the Industrial Revolution as well.

The cast, many of whom enact multiple roles, is also to be commended for its commitment to multileveled playing. In particular, the majestic Ann Sonneville nearly steals the show with her brightly regal, nearly poisonous take on Elizabeth I. Strangely, as the character is the primary focus; David Lovejoy is almost too subdued as D'eon. Perhaps working too conceptually, the performance—until its final moments—almost leaves the audience with too much of an emotional distance to the character. Thankfully, the story is so compelling and worthy of exploration that this does little to mar the show's impact.

In fact, this production could ultimately rank as one of Trap Door's most compelling tales. Always exploring the strange, unparalleled beauty of the world, this piece is truly a celebration of D'eon and the respect that she demanded for the fluidity of existence.

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