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WINDYCITYMEDIAGROUP

The Revolutionists
by Mary Shen Barnidge
2018-12-03


Playwright: Lauren M. Gunderson

At: Strawdog Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice Ave. Tickets: Strawdog.org 773-644-1380; $35-$40. Runs through: Dec. 29

You probably haven't thought about revolution—not the kind extolled by advertisers, but the capital "R" off-with-their-heads variety—since history class, but try now to recall what you were told about the toppling of monarchies that didn't focus exclusively on males butting heads and making speeches. The documented contribution of women to the quest for independent rule, however, has always been largely restricted to wives, mothers, daughters and sweethearts serving as figureheads or martyrs in support of their sires.

Lauren M. Gunderson disapproves this injustice. In her account of the French revolution, Charlotte Corday, the assassin of Jean-Paul Marat, roundly denounces the assumption that she had to be "fucked into" taking action. Gunderson also argues the paradox of a privileged elite championing "freedom" while practicing colonialist slavery and domestic disenfranchisement, the insecurity of an artist's career, the downside of celebrity and the ironies of faulty foresight. Her diatribe is framed in a scenario proposing a real-life playwright in 1783, one Mme. Olympe DeGouges, striving to be the voice of her turbulent age.

Late in the play, a tribunal accuses DeGouges of writing "a shameless drama, poorly penned" only to have the indignant author protest "It's a first draft!" While this factor might not apply to the play we are watching, there is no denying Gunderson's occasional surrender to an excess of enthusiasm in her eagerness to explore every last contradiction inherent in her dramatic setting, making for occasional moments of vacant repartee or misplaced inside-jokes bridging gaps between pithier observations.

Gunderson's overstuffed text offers an abundance of deconstructive analysis packed into a mere two hours, with additional clutter provided by a Brecht-Tech ambience involving industrial-warehouse decor, exposed audio equipment and matte-white fashions encompassing a Dolly Parton-sized wig for the deposed Marie Antoinette and a baby-doll frock for Caribbean spy Marianne Angelle. The first heavy snowfall of the season couldn't help but take a toll on the opening night energy level ( with Izis Mollinedo's slyly nuanced Corday emerging the sole performance to fully occupy every dimension of the role assigned her in Gunderson's brainy, witty and wordy sprint through three centuries ) but what's a revolution without a challenge?

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