Monsieur d’Éon Is a Woman tells the story of a remarkable gender-bending life | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

Monsieur d’Éon Is a Woman tells the story of a remarkable gender-bending life 

There's spycraft, treason, exile, and insolence—and it's raucous, cheerful fun.

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Chris Popio

Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont lived a revolutionary life in revolutionary times. He began his singular career under Louis XV as both secretary to the Russian ambassador and undercover spy. After a stint as a French dragoon, he became minister plenipotentiary to the British court (while also covertly helping to plan an invasion of England), a position he lost six months later due to insolent behavior. When the king ordered him home, he refused, and after escaping multiple attempts at kidnap and arrest, he published a volume of his diplomatic correspondence, exposing state secrets and turning himself into a celebrity. He spent a decade exiled in London until the playwright Beaumarchais, working for the French government, gave him leave to return home, but only if he professed to be a woman—a gender d'Éon publicly adopted for the next 35 years.

Toronto playwright Mark Brownell's frisky biodrama employs all manner of anachronistic clowning to sprint through the highlights of d'Éon's life. It's raucous fun, cheerfully sexed up in director Nicole Wiesner's salacious production, but largely devoid of connecting material that might provide context and resonance. It seems Brownell crammed in so much information and chicanery he barely paused to consider why any of it should matter to contemporary audiences.

It's an uncharacteristically unsophisticated play for Trap Door, but Wiesner's sophisticated staging—full of visual and sonic dissonance—hypnotizes with 90 minutes of bracing imagery. As d'Éon, the understated David Lovejoy is a block of noble stability in a world gone haywire.   v


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