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Theater Review: “The Revolutionists”

Samantha Ginn, Lisel Gorell-Getz, Jo Anne Glover & Cashae Monya in The Revolutionists.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

The Reign of Terror as comedy? Hey, why not?

In “The Revolutionists,” playwright Lauren Gunderson takes us to the France of 1793, after the revolution and during the time the extremist Jacobins were guillotining “traitors” (anyone who disagreed with or made fun of them).

Four women – playwright Olympe de Gouges, soon-to-be assassin Charlotte Corday, former queen Marie Antoinette and Haitian activist Marianne Angelle – are hanging out and plotting how (and whether) they will survive this dark period in French history.

Olympe (Jo Anne Glover) is suffering writer’s block when Charlotte (Samantha Ginn) crashes in like a bull in a china shop.

She plans to murder the even more politically extreme Jean-Paul Marat (“because he’s awful”), which she knows will get her the guillotine. She wants Olympe to give her some memorable last words, preferably a little classier than what she really feels – “May God have no pity, motherfuckers.”

At Olympe’s, Charlotte meets Marianne (Cashae Monya), a black activist from Haiti, who has left her husband to do her bit for the cause of liberty – especially for women – in France. And she wants slavery abolished across the entire French Empire.

Former Queen Marie Antoinette (Lisel Gorell-Getz), whose husband was executed earlier in the year, also wants to strike a blow for women’s rights – especially hers. 

“I’m here for rewrite,” she tells Olympe. “Who wants a Citizen for a queen? Make me highness again.” Marie is sweet and clueless, but when you’ve got a cause to push you need all the help you can get.

“It’s our revolution now and, like everything American, we’ll do it better in France,” says Olympe.

Emily Small’s clever set is simple and functional. Watch for the “wall” that can serve as either a jail cell or morph into a bathtub faucet. 

Jennifer Brawn Gittings has gone crazy with the period costumes, from Charlotte’s brown number to Marie’s big pouffy “queen dress” with sparkles all over it.

Sherrice Mojgani’s fine lighting and Rachel LeVine’s sometimes-scary but contemporary sound design add to the atmosphere. 

And the wigs! Credit Missy Bradstreet with those period wigs.

I can identify with Glover’s Olympe, desperately trying to get those creative juices flowing so she can write a play.

And I love the way she grabs at any passing idea, just in case it might work. 

Samantha Ginn’s near-crazed Charlotte is a kick to watch as she prepares to assassinate the even wilder-haired radical Marat. “I need somewhere safe to practice my stabbing and scary eyes,” she tells Marianne.

Gorell-Getz’s Marie Antoinette is exactly the way you’d picture her – pretty and well-meaning, but not too bright.

Cashae Monya is terrific as Marianne, the lone fictional character, and the dedicated kind of activist who really believes in doing something. 

Gunderson (the most-produced living playwright in the U.S.) is having quite a year. This is the third of her plays to be presented locally (the others were “Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight,” seen at North Coast Repertory Theatre, and “Silent Sky,” which just closed at Lamb’s Players Theatre). 

“The Revolutionists” is more fun than either of the others, even though this story will not end well for any of them.

The details

“The Revolutionists” plays through June 18, 2017 at MOXIE Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Boulevard in the Rolando district.  

Thursday at 7 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm