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THEATER REVIEW The Revolutionists
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-06-06

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Playwright: Lauren Gunderson

At: Organic Theater Company at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: $25; OrganicTheater.org;

773-404-7336. Runs through: July 8

The first thing we hear is a female quartet crooning a song extolling the value of "stories." The second is the ominous crunch of a guillotine blade. The third is a cheerful young woman dressed in fashions of the French Directoire, declaring, "Well, that's not the way to start a comedy!"

We don't know it yet, but Lauren Gunderson has just apprised us of the agenda for her latest play—a smart, eloquent, multiple-metatheatrical romp that gallops apace without ever leaving us in the dust of boring facts.

Our setting is Paris in 1793—a city in turmoil following the overthrow of the monarchy and the rise of a citizenry flushed with desire for revenge. Our hostess is Olympe de Gouges, real-life feminist playwright determined to preserve in literature the tale of her turbulent times, but with no loss of commercial appeal. Potential protagonists include Charlotte Corday ( real-life assassin of radical journalist Jean-Paul Marat ), Marianne Angelle ( couleur-libre spy for real-life Haitian rebels ) and Marie Antoinette ( real-life former empress of France ). They have come seeking Olympe's assurance that their part in launching a new age of liberty, equality and fraternity—but sadly lacking in sorority—is not lost to the history that will be written by the victors.

Both comedy and tragedy rely on incongruity for their tension, and since Gunderson proclaims her play to be both, her text supplies enough deconstructive dissonance for a dozen Tom Stoppards and two dozen Aaron Posners: powdered wigs and pannier skirts are juxtaposed with debates—conducted in modern sociospeak replete with identity-linked buzzwords—over the wisdom of incorporating musical scores, romantic subplots or puppets into the as-yet-unfinished docudrama. Amid the anachronistic giggles, however, lurks the grim realization of what happens to freedom when the long-promised power falls to the zealots.

A narrative operating on this many levels requires a conductor more than it does a director, but Bryan Wakefield embraces the challenge of its verbal choreography, as does the exemplary cast assembled for this Organic Theater Company production. Taylor Raye's bemused Marianne and Sara Copeland's peppery Charlotte anchor a dialogue propelled by Laura Sturm's revisionable Marie and Stephanie Sullivan's cautious Olympe, whose own execution would render forever undecided the question of whether women would have made for better post-revolution government.


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