Voltaire called her "a great man whose only fault was being a woman."
She was a mathematician and physicist during the Age of Enlightenment, when women were not allowed into the famous Café Gradot, where male scientific types hung out (almost makes you wonder how that age got its name, doesn’t it?)
But that didn’t stop her; she went to the Gradot dressed en homme. It didn’t fool anybody, but it got her in.
She was Emilie, the gutsy 18th-century Marquise du Châtelet, who could (and did) stand up to any man who tried to give her guff.
Now she gets her theatrical due at New Village Arts Theatre in playwright Lauren Gunderson’s cumbersomely titled “Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight.”
Emilie was lucky to be the daughter of a Parisian aristocrat who saw to it that his daughter got the best education.
She learned four languages, studied mathematics and physics, and at one point decided to translate Isaac Newton’s famous “Principia Mathematica” from Latin into French. Not only that, she added her own notes and “corrections.”
Emilie was apparently quite a character, with an extremely understanding husband who allowed her the freedom to do what she wanted – even to the point of taking on lovers.
Voltaire was one of them, and in fact at one point when Voltaire was threatened with jail for his writing, he stayed with Emilie in a small chateau in Cirey owned by Emilie’s husband, where among other things they did their scientific work.
Much of the science in this play revolves around something called “Force Vive,” which I’m not even going to try to describe. Suffice it to say that Newton and Leibniz disagreed on this, and so do Voltaire and Emilie.
Jo Anne Glover is smashing as Emilie, though she is encumbered with the rather clumsy playwright’s conceit of speaking to us from beyond the grave, with the restriction that Emilie blows all the theater lights if she touches anyone (it happens a few times).
That necessitates a character called Soubrette (Christine L. Flynn) to play Emilie (and a few other characters). It’s an unnecessary distraction.
Skyler Sullivan’s Voltaire manages to be clever, charming, sniffy and cocksure all at once. He and Emilie are great foils for each other.
Dagmar Krause Fields and Zackary Bonin are fine in a variety of smaller roles.
Kristianne Kurner’s fairly basic set and Elisa Benzoni’s wonderful period costumes effectively set the scene. Kudos also to sound designer Bill Bradbury and Chris Renda for his fine lighting.
I’m glad Gunderson – a young playwright having a very big year – chose to write about this practically unknown scientist. Though I wish she’d go back and rewrite the “back from the dead” aspect, Glover makes this is a play worth seeing.
“Emilie: The Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight” plays through March 6, 2016 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad.
Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; matinees Saturday at 3 pm and Sunday at 2 pm
Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or www.newvillagearts.org