The Revolutionists At Park Square Theatre
This spring, Park Square Theatre is ready to bring theatergoers on a comedic romp through one of history’s darkest historical moments: The French Revolution. The Revolutionists, written by award-winning playwright Lauren Gunderson, spins a tale of four women who were all uniquely involved in that moment of history. Characters include playwright Olympe de Gouges (Alison Edwards), revolutionary and composite character Marianne Angelle (Tia Tanzer), assassin Charlotte Corday (Jasmine Porter), and – it would not be the French Revolution without her – Marie Antoinette (Jane Froiland). The combined stories of these four extraordinary characters create a portrait of the French Revolution like one you have never seen before.
Director Shelli Place took some time to discuss her vision for The Revolutionists for our readers and explain what initially drew her to this play. High on that list was the relevance of the content to a modern audience. “[The events of in this play] are not too far from where we are now,” explains Place, “The government was not respected…the poverty, the racism, the sexism…there are so many things that cross over to today.” Conceptually, The Revolutionists deals with heavy subject matter, but it is tonally light – a witty comedy that requires its audience’s attention and rewards that attention with rapid-fire comedic payoffs.
“It is a meta play, which is a play about a playwright writing a play,” says Place. “Because of that it has an abstract, dream-like quality. The playwright calls it a fugue. Different melodies in the tone of the characters and different themes going through it but they all intertwine.” The play offers the viewer space to reflect on how vastly different people lived out their values at a time when their worlds were collectively intolerable.
The play fleshes out Marie Antoinette, whom Place points out we have been “trained to make fun of” and gives her “some incredible moments of clarity”. It introduces us to Marianne Angelle, who spotlights the concurrent Haitian Revolution. She is “the only character in the show who is not based on one person but is rather an amalgamation of free men and women in Haiti who were trying to abolish slavery in Haiti and around the world.” Every character brings light to a different facet of a revolution with which most of us think we are familiar.
Of course, above all else, The Revolutionists is a comedy. “Comedy itself is about contrasts. With The Revolutionists, it is the pathos of the Reign of Terror and the pace of witty dialogue,” explains Place. This value of contrasting elements reverberates through every element of the show. Sound designer Anita Kelling created an audio experience that uses the instruments of yesteryear to play the Top 40 of today and costume designer Sonya Berloviz put “a period look into leather and made it contemporary.”
It is also worth noting that The Revolutionists is put on by the still relatively new production company PRIME Productions. Place founded PRIME Productions alongside Alison Edwards and Elena Giannetti in 2016 when the trio realized how few roles were available in the Twin Cities for women fifty or older. “Our tagline is ‘Celebrating women in their second act’” says Place.
PRIME prioritizes telling stories about mature women, while also seeking out productions with meaningful themes and intersectional characters. “It is not just about casting – it is about investing time and effort and money into various cultures,” Place says, “Our first play was about the Holocaust, the second was about climate change, the third was about artificial intelligence and dementia. The fourth one was a great comedy with two terrific roles for women.” The Revolutionists continues the trend of strong storytelling with women at its fulcrum. “[This play] was written for strong women and about strong women – for strong actresses.”
Like many plays, The Revolutionists has seen its fair share of delays before finally finding its way to the stage. “It was delayed a year and then another year,” says Place, “I am relieved that the audience is finally going to get to see it.”
“I just want people to know that every theater – not only us – is waiting for an audience to come back,” says Place. If you have been waiting for the right play to bring you back to theaters The Revolutionists might just be it. The show runs from March 31st – April 16th on the Proscenium Stage at Park Square Theatre. Tickets are on sale now. Check out the website listed below for all performance dates, along with special nights like those where masks are required (April 6th and April 15th), the ASL-interpreted show (April 2), and more.
“There is nothing like live theater,” says Place, “Whatever happens on that stage that night is never going to happen again.” Not to stoke the FOMO in all of you, but she is right. Do not miss your chance to see this darkly hilarious play.
Park Square Theatre
20 W 7th Pl, St Paul