Though cutesy at times and sluggishly meta at others, Lauren Gunderson's The Revolutionists is nevertheless a persistent, provocative, and particularly relevant piece of theater. Under the direction of co-artistic directors Ashley H. White and Joe Messina, Imprint Theatreworks' production delivers a deluge of poignant, witty moments, beautifully rendered and flamboyantly framed.
It's not surprising that Imprint Theatreworks, the newish company that's already made waves with its inaugural season, chose Gunderson's script. It features four fierce female characters, some based on infamous historical figures and one a composite that represents the sentiments of the time. That would be during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror, when thousands met their fate at the guillotine and the French government, aristocracy, and entire status quo was in upheaval.
"I hate that bitch," playwright and activist Olympe de Gouges (an arresting Marianne Galloway) grumbles, referring to Madame Guillotine. She should indeed hate — and fear — the device, as she and her compatriots are headed there post-haste for execution scenes that manage to be both chilling and lovely. Each woman is fighting for freedom and fairness, for their people, their country, and themselves (being a woman has never been easy).
While wrestling with a particularly nasty bout of writer's block, Olympe is visited by her friend Marianne Angelle, who's seeking asylum while she works to abolish slavery. The Caribbean activist (the only character who historically did not exist, but others like her did) is played with sass and heart by Sky Williams, who is often tasked with the most serious storyline and rises to the challenge.
Also popping in are two people Olympe has never met before (and probably didn't in her real life): the cherubic-faced assassin Charlotte Corday and the queen of France herself, Marie Antoinette. Charlotte (Dani Holway, mesmerizing when she's not mugging) is readying herself to kill Jean-Paul Marat, and knows she will surely be executed for her crime. She seeks out Olympe to pen her some memorable last words for the scaffold, and continually states how her belief that Marat must die was nope, definitely not, not at all caused by a man who wouldn't return her affections.
But it's Jennifer Kuenzer who turns in the show's most captivating performance, reveling in Marie's vapid silliness before stunning with remarks that are cutting in their raw honesty. Kuenzer fully inhabits the rainbow-colored petticoats of the deposed queen, toying like a kitten with the ribbons encircling her wrist and exclaiming "gasp!" and "sigh" in a manner that's both humorously grating and irritatingly adorable.
When Marie finally makes it to the gallows (not a spoiler, because come on), Kuenzer is stripped bare of her frippery and left exposed, suddenly seeming much smaller and many times more fragile. It's a heartbreaking, honest, and hilarious performance.
Notice yet how often the costumes have been mentioned? That's because the outfits that Jessie Wallace has designed, in tandem with Michael B. Moore's striking hair and makeup, are a riot of color and pattern. From Charlotte's Betsey Johnson-esque gown and coat to Olympe's smart suit, the costumes each have a modern twist that adds layers to the character. But even when leeched of color for the execution scenes, with the women dressed in simple white shifts, the effect is no less powerful.
Imprint Theatreworks' production of The Revolutionists runs through August 4 at the Margo Jones Theatre in Fair Park.