The Revolutionists undermines its own powerful message with too much cutesiness | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The Revolutionists undermines its own powerful message with too much cutesiness 

But Olympe de Gouges and the other women of the French Revolution are worth knowing.

click to enlarge revolutionists-1.jpg

Anna Gelman

You probably know about Charlotte Corday. She assassinated the bloodthirsty French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. You certainly know about Marie Antoinette, the Vienna-born French queen famously separated from her head during the Reign of Terror. All you can possibly know about Marianne Angelle is what playwright Lauren Gunderson tells you in The Revolutionists, running now at the Greenhouse in a supple, often amusing Organic Theater Company production. Gunderson invented Angelle to represent Caribbean women who fought French colonial rule even as the French themselves were massacring one another in the name of liberté, egalité, and fraternité.

In the play, all three women connect through Olympe de Gouges, whom you almost certainly don't know, though she was real and easily as interesting as the others. A playwright and activist, de Gouges wrote the "Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen," which (ugly irony) made her suspect to the leaders of the French Revolution. She ended up on the guillotine.

De Gouges's last words were a demand addressed to her fellow citizens: "You will avenge my death!" In a way, that's what Gunderson's done here, by reviving her story, at once humanizing and ennobling her struggle. There's a lot I don't like about The Revolutionists, starting with a cutesy, sub-Sarah Ruhlian use of anachronism that tests our patience and threatens to subvert Gunderson's insights. But Bryan Wakefield's cast is strong, the subject is more than worthy, and a major subtheme concerning the cruel piety of would-be revolutionaries speaks volumes about the current political moment-even, just for instance, the Chicago theater community.   v

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