A political revolution is a very tricky thing to get right. Any newly-formed government runs the risk of setting-up a system that’s just as flawed and exploitive as the one it replaces. Next Act Theatre takes a look at this in light of frustratingly persistent gender inequalities in the darkly humorous postmodernist comedy The Revolutionaries. Playwright Lauren Gunderson’s fiercely clever wit is brought to the stage with a talented cast under the direction of seasoned local stage veteran Laura Gordon. Set during the time of the French Revolution, the cleverly anachronistic comedy also explores the nature of art in an impressively inspiring season opener for Next Act.
Cassandra Bissell opens the play in the role of late 18th century playwright/political activist Olympe de Gouges. She’s sequestered herself at her writing desk in the midst of the French Revolution. She’s trying desperately to write some brilliant script that will distill the spirit of the age, but she doesn’t even know where to begin. Bissell brilliantly summons the deep intellectual passions of a very aggressively active intellect compromised by second-class status as a woman. Bissell’s unwavering focus on Olympe’s dazzling ardor catapults her through drama and comedy alike. Bissell has a scalpel-sharp sense of comic delivery and timing that serves the emotional center of the play.
Leah Dutchin plays to the central heroism of the play as Caribbean revolutionist Marianne Angelle. Dutchin lends the stage a deep, smartly-constructed action hero’s energy to the stage as the revolutionary spy, who is also a great friend of Olympe’s. She’s arrived at the desk of the playwright, asking her to pen a pamphlet that will aid in her cause. Where as Olympe and the rest of the characters are all lost in their own struggles, Marianne serves as a central moral compass in the pulse of the revolution. More than merely serving a dramatic influence, Duthcin’s galvanizing presence deftly carves its way through the comedy.
Eva Nimmer wields the comedy of fanaticism with admirably dramatic emotional agility in the role of political assassin Charlotte Corday. She has come to visit the playwright in hopes that she will write her last words. Olympe is a bit busy with the play and the pamphlet, but Corday’s declaration of her intention to murder a journalist captures the playwright’s imagination and things begin to get complicated. Nimmer craftily finds her own distinct flavor of recklessly selfless passion in a cast filled with revolutionaries. Charlotte is initially restless over Olympe’s fascination with her, but quickly gains patience due to deep respect for everyone else in the room.
Gunderson’s script goes from fun to strikingly clever with the introduction of a fourth character. The three revolutionary personalities are contrasted by the preternaturally wise and emotionally empathic, but otherwise blindly ignorant Marie Antoinette. Bree Beelow smartly navigates the challenging terrain of a reprehensible AND respectable personality without compromising the character’s primary dynamic as light comic counterweight to the depth of the rest of the cast. The childlike playfulness of the character might have come across as being abrasive given the nature of the figure she’s playing, but Beelow finds an intellectual gravity to the character that blends well with the rest of the cast.
The Revolutionists is an openly anachronistic play that gazes into itself as much as it does actual history. It’s a clever funhouse mirror into fundamental aspects of art, history, equality and heroism that isn’t afraid to swing wildly from the silly to the profound and back in quick slices of action and dialogue. It’s an impressive and deeply entertaining opening for Next Act.
Next Act’s production of The Revolutionists runs through Oct. 20 at 255 S Water St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Next Act online.