There are several things you can count on in a play by Lauren Gunderson. It will center on women with a feminist bent, it will have crisp, witty dialogue yet make plenty of serious points and it will self-reflectively keep reminding us that we are watching a play, what theater folks call “meta.”
Certainly that is the case with The Revolutionists, a tongue-in-cheek tale of four women trying to make a difference during the French Revolution or at least survive it. It is receiving its area premiere from Florida Atlantic University’s professional stage company, Theatre Lab, in a production ably directed by Matt Stabile with a wink and a nudge to historical realities.
As Tom Stoppard often does, Gunderson juxtaposes a minor figure from the period – little-known feminist playwright Olympe DeGouges (wily, winsome Niki Fridh) – against more prominent real-life characters, such as deposed Queen Marie Antoinette (ditzy, Loire Valley girl Mia Matthews, stumped by the seismic changes in the land), would-be assassin of pamphleteer Jean-Paul Marat, Charlotte Corday (a perpetually angry Nicole Stoica) and Caribbean spy Marianne Angelle (a fiery Candice Marie Singleton), eager for independence for her island nation, the kind that only revolution can bring.
And like so much of Stoppard, The Revolutionists is alternately playful and thought-provoking, with torrents of words rushing at us with a frequency that begs for a pause button at our seats, so we can savor the bon mots and let them sink in before the next wave of meaning nuggets arrives.
Playwright DeGouges yearns to write something meaningful, something that promotes equality for women. But at the moment, as the play begins, she is consumed by writer’s block. In her desperation, she considers writing a musical, but soon realizes that no one wants to sit through a musical about a French revolution. (Caution: Show biz meta joke zone.)
The other characters, improbably all thrown together chez DeGouges, also have wants. Marianne wants DeGouges to write her an inflammatory pamphlet to promote Caribbean independence, Corday needs a memorable exit line to shout as she fatally stabs Marat and Marie Antoinette – besides being partial to a nice piece of cake – wants to avoid her husband’s fate of meeting the business end of a guillotine. Stir gently and you have a tasty theatrical bouillabaisse.
At Theatre Lab, Michael McClain – the company’s newly appointed resident scenic designer – demonstrates his ability to realize many attractive locales on the intimate – as in “small” – space, with fold-out and repurposed set fragments. FAU assistant professor Dawn C. Shamburger devises apt and witty costumes, notably Marie Antoinette’s exceedingly frilly regalia.
Theatre Lab artistic director Louis Tyrrell has long championed Gunderson’s work (Exit, Pursued by a Bear, I and You), and the rest of the nation’s theaters have since caught on. Except for William Shakespeare, she is the most produced playwright in the United States. Go check out The Revolutionists and you will understand why.
THE REVOLUTIONISTS, FAU Theatre Lab, Parliament Hall on the Florida Atlantic University campus, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton. Through Sunday, Feb. 25. $35. 561-297-6124 or click here.