The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson directed by Denise Yvette Serna is a necessary reflection on the role of femmes creating potent social change. In 2016, Donald J. Trump was elected President , becoming one of the most powerful men in the world. Of those who voted, 53% of white women backed Donald J. Trump over Hillary Clinton, preferring to advance a conservative agenda despite Trump’s well-documented history of violence against women, lack of political experience, and overall vile behavior. Since the election, many have been trying to dissect and understand just what happened in the 2016 election. The most effective analyses point a finger at the insidious nature of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy as they manifest in the American oligarchic democratic experiment. Within this context, The Revolutionists play deftly points at the ways in which #whitefeminism continues to miss the mark, and it offers all femmes a hefty dose of hope and encouragement to continue fighting systems of oppression.
The Revolutionists is set in the midst of the French Revolution and tells the story of historical figure Olympe de Gouge, beautifully played by Kat McDonnell. The suggestion of France is given by set designer Alex Casillas, in this world ribbons drape casually between representations of the sharp crags of the French Alps. Ornate candelabras of the time period were mounted on the walls, and from them emerged not candles but industrial black lights. A gorgeous celebration of contradiction. Olympe is a playwright striving to write something that will make an impact. She begins the play wracking her brains for something to write. One by one she is approached by the spy, the assassin, and Marie Antoinette, who all ask her to write for them. The spy, a free Black Caribbean (Kamille Dawkins*) wants a pamphlet that will tell the story of her people’s liberation struggle. The assassin (Izis Mollinedo) wants the writer to pen the last words she will say as she awaits an expected execution for the murder of Jean-Paul Marat. The queen wants the writer to rewrite her narrative and make her “Majesty again.” As each of the four femmes works to fulfill her own agenda, an unexpected friendship between them all unfolds. The foursome’s friendship is threatened only by their inability to be present to each other’s struggles, to really see and hear one another’s stories.
Olympe de Gouge (Kat McDonnell) is a well-intentioned white femme who desperately wants to be “woke,” but she is unable to witness the injustices that face her friends firsthand. . When there is a chance that her writing will be found by the authorities, de Gouge is willing to burn it all in order to save her own skin. In a thrilling scene, the spy Charlotte Corday (a wry Izis Mollinedo) details the great burdens she has been forced to sacrifice, de Gouge can barely grasp what the spy has had to endure and sacrifice in the name of the struggle for justice. The writer is the face of all “social justice warriors,” brave on social media or in our speech, yet take little to no actual action that costs us our privileges or safety. We therefore end up stagnated in self-absorption, ridden with liberal angst, ineffectual, and regretful while the oppressors carry on reaping their bounty.
I thoroughly enjoyed the powerful performances on stage, but I have to say that the experience of the play began for me in the lobby, thanks to Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel’s lobby display and public dramaturgy pamphlet. The lush, colorful lobby display introduced the four fierce femmes at the center of this play and invited guests to reflect on and name the revolutionists in their own lives. Before I even entered the theater I knew that this play would be a powerful reflection and a call to action.
The dramaturgy pamphlet served to briefly orient me to the setting, stakes, and badass tone of the play. Before even taking my seat, I was able to connect to each of the play’s characters: the writer–Olympe de Gouge, the assassin–Charlotte Corday, the spy–Marianne Angelle, and even Marie Antoinette, the queen. Through the dramaturgy, I found a way into a play that I honestly wasn’t sure I’d understand or connect to as an Indo-Caribbean American femme with very little education in European history beyond what I choose to consume (which isn’t much).
The lighting, designed by Claire Chrzan,* perfectly completed the world of the play full of delicacy and strength, harsh reality, and illusion. In close partnership with the sound designer, Spencer Meeks, the exquisite light and color of the play beautifully depicted the trials and executions that pepper the French Revolution. . Costume designer, Leah Hummel gifted us with costumes that reflected each character’s strength as well as their vulnerability.
Lastly, the casting for this play is to be celebrated because the script only specifically calls for one femme of color in the play, but casting director, Kanomé Jones, chose to cast the fierce Izis Mollinedo as the assassin, Charlotte Corday. This choice heightens the tension between the assassin and the spy — and whose story de Gouge will choose to tell.
I highly recommend this production, specifically to femmes and those of us engaging in conversations about intersectional feminism and the value of employing a diversity of tactics in the struggle for long-lasting social and cultural change.
1. I am not a fan of Donald J. Trump.
2. I am a dramaturg, so I love and admire great dramaturgy and want to document it when it’s this exciting!
3. I am working as the Stage Manager/Assistant Director for Free Street’s upcoming show, STILL HERE, for which Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel is an ensemble member.
4. Alex Casillas is going to be the dramaturg and lighting designer for my play, HOW TO PICK A LOCK, which will be up at RhinoFest in Jan/Feb of 2019.
5. Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel is an alumni of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program
Title: The Revolutionists
Playwright: Lauren M. Gunderson
Director: Denise Yvette Serna
Photos: Colin Quinn Rice
Cast (in alphabetical order):
Marianne Angelle: Kamille Dawkins
Marie Antoinette: Sarah Goeden*
Olympe de Gouge: Kat McDonnell
Charlotte Corday: Izis Mollinedo
Casting Director: Kanomé Jones
Production Manager: Becca Levy
Dramaturg: Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel
Assistant Director: Jess Haworth
Stage Manager: Lauren Brady
Lighting Design: Claire Chrzan
Scenic Design: Alex Casillas
Costume Design: Leah Hummel
Music Design/Arrangements: Spencer Meeks
Sound Design: Spencer Meeks
Props Design: Danielle Myerscough
Master Electrician: Shelbi Ardnt
Charge Painter: Rachel Rauscher