Review: Strong performances and design lift Persephone Theatre’s The Revolutionists

The ominous sound of a guillotine blade falling with a resounding slide and thunk kicks off the play The Revolutionists at Persephone Theatre.

The women at the heart of playwright Lauren Gunderson’s feminist metatheatrical script are revolutionary thinkers both real and fictional, coming together to fight for the values of sorority, women’s rights, and positive activism.

Except the production the night of Sunday, April 10 was not nearly so clear-cut, and the humorous elements written into this comedy often failed to find their mark. Superb acting from each of the four women playing the feature roles saved this production of The Revolutionists from its own grisly fate on the proverbial guillotine.

The Revolutionists centers around four women in the height of the French Revolution — three of them real, one fictional — as they try to carve out a legacy for themselves in a rapidly-changing word. The characters of playwright and activist Olympe de Gouges (Elizabeth Nepjuk), noblewoman-turned-assassin Charlotte Corday (Kathleen MacLean) and the infamous queen Marie Antoinette herself (Anita Smith) are all interpretations of real historical figures. The fourth character, rebel spy Marianne Angelle (Chiamaka Glory), is “a composite of a few historical sources and a lot of imagination, as there are not many records of Black women in the San Domingue rebellion,” per the show’s program.

The actors in The Revolutionists should all take an additional bow for the work they did elevating the show. Anita Smith as Marie Antoinette stole every scene she was in — and while part of that can be credited to the writing of Antoinette as particularly flamboyant, Smith deserves praise for bringing out the surprisingly poignant depth of the character. Thanks to a more reserved but no less passionate performance by Chiamaka Glory as Marianne Angelle, Antoinette and Angelle became the emotional heart of the show.

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