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Miami’s “Revolutionists” For All!

Review by Sean Maus of The Revolutionists: Miami University Theatre

I have to be upfront.  I was laughing so much during Miami University’s entertaining production of Lauren Gunderson’s The Revolutionists that I can’t read my notes.  So I have to write my truth, which the character Marianne Angelle urges each of us to do.

The moment Marjorie Trimble takes the stage as Olympe De Gouges, standing on a desk as a shadow of a guillotine splays red across the stage,  we hear the boom of the guillotine, and Trimble — in perfect comedic delivery — deadpans, “Yeah, a guillotine is not the way to open a comedy.” Hilarity ensues. Labeled as “an irreverent comedy,” the play’s tone is more complicated than that, including, in the first hilarious act alone, lots of puns, some modern slang (both verbal and visual — as Marie Antoinette struts on stage with a Lady Gaga meets Elton John vibe), and plenty of references to that musical from another French revolution.

In Paris of 1793, the playwright and political activist Olympe de Gouges (Marjorie Trimble) wants to write a show that will leave an impact on society. She plans on featuring the assassin Charlotte Corday (Elizabeth Bode), Marie Antoinette (Abigail Murray), and black activist Marianne Angelle (Vaysha Ramsey-Anderson), a composite character. When the four meet at Olympe’s house, they discuss politics, death, and their personal lives. Olympe, Marie and Marianne become intrigued when Charlotte discusses her plans to murder the radical Jacobin journalist Jean-Paul Marat. Her talk of killing reminds the women that their lives might not last too long, given the revolution and dangerous times in France.

The casting of these four actresses is inspired and just in time for International Women’s Day (March 8, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women) , which serves the show well.  Trimble brings verve to Olympe with facial expressions and comic timing of some of the best screwball comedians such as Lucille Ball, and a feistiness of Katherine Hepburn. Trimble’s delivery, finger motions (Olympe talks to finger puppets when acting out scenes for her writing), and sticking out her tongue when lost in deep thought show that she understands comedy is an art form.  Elizabeth Bode, as Charlotte Corday, is a petite beauty with wild hair, searing eyes and a pouty mouth who creates such a thrilling, monstrously funny, and heart-rending performance that we weep at her demise. Vaysha Ramsey-Anderson’s performance as Marianne Angelle is the play’s barometer, measuring how much we can idealize these women or see them as history that allows us to see ourselves.  Completing the quartet of characters is Marie Antoinette, whom we know most from our history lessons. Abigail Murray shows a lot of skill in the delivery of her lines without turning Marie Antoinette into a caricature and challenges us to rethink the way we view all of these women and their history — especially her own “let them eat cake” (which the playwright reimagines as placing an order for dessert.) These actress prove themselves to be names worthy of remembering in the theatre world.

Scenic designer Lauren Lienhart fashioned the play in what can almost be described as an intimate style. The use of lace and words stenciled on the desk, hanging cutouts of the backdrop and organic doilies of lighting bring the black box of Studio 88 alive with the elegance of France in a small space.

Lighting designer Emma Wott skillfully compliments the set design while emotionally charging the guillotine scenes.  Singular light bulbs hang from bare wires creating mini-worlds for the characters to inhabit from the chic sophisticated “je ne sais quoi” of Olympe’s writing room to the aggressive jail and death sequences. 

The Revolutionists is buoyant with a high energy, while subverting a degree of tragedy. It may be fiction, but it’s not fake.  The show reminds us that we must question, especially in this era of fake news, “Who are we, without a story?”

This is a play that is fun, thoughtful and well-acted.  This production is a major player in the Miami canon of theatre.  As Olympe asks Marie, “Think of the power of a play that shows the entwined lives of real women,” which is precisely what The Revolutionists does, to this point describing itself. Through The Revolutionists  you will learn to be true to your truth and write your own history — with a lot of laughs in between.

The production runs at Miami University’s Studio 88 from March 6-10, 2019.