Off with their heads: ‘The Revolutionists’ brings feminist comedy to the stage


Photo courtesy of Justin Barbin

Lacombe Garcia as Olympe de Gouges onstage. “The Revolutionists” ran last weekend.

Raj Ghanekar and Kara Peeler

This piece contains spoilers. 

A giant guillotine. An assassination plot. Comedy, companionship and sorrow. “The Revolutionists” had it all. 

The two-act play written by Lauren Gunderson ran last weekend at the Hal & Martha Hyer Wallis Theater.

The play takes place during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Based on true stories, it follows four friends: scorned former French queen Marie Antoinette, playwright and social reformer Olympe de Gouges, passionate young assassin Charlotte Corday and Haitian civil rights activist Marianne Angelle. 

This play…deals with our own being afraid of change and driving change and taking a stand — but also (deals) with a real woman’s life,” said costume designer Lia Wallfish, a third-year MFA costume design candidate. “I hope the audience took away that they have the power to also drive change, even if it’s scary, and to fight for what is right.” 

Set at a time of social and political extremism, “The Revolutionists” follows Corday’s assassination of journalist Jean-Paul Marat and the subsequent formation of the women’s friendships.

The play is a part of the MFA Collaboration series, which matches MFA directors and designers on theatre projects. Its production process began in a class with a group of four graduate students and later added other graduate and undergraduate students to the team. 

Director and third-year MFA directing candidate Jasmine B. Gunter said she first found the play during the COVID-19 pandemic and knew she wanted to direct it sometime during her graduate studies.

Her four-person cast included three students of color, something she said was meant to connect to the play’s modern script and the modern struggles of all women. 

“You can actually use this play as a platform to speak to the experience of all women who have dealt with the patriarchy, who (have) dealt with oppression and fighting against systems of injustice,” Gunter said.

Communication sophomore Anne-Sophie Lacombe Garcia, who plays de Gouges, said she noticed NU has been putting on more plays that feature predominantly male-identifying characters and actors. She said she was happy that “The Revolutionists” provided a place to highlight talented women. 

The play’s cast and crew was predominantly women according to Lacombe Garcia, who said the process was empowering and almost like sisterhood. 

“What was also really touching about this play is that it’s all about women not needing men,” she said. “There’s never a man that controls these women’s lives.” 

Lacombe Garcia said it was refreshing to hear about how the French Revolution affected women. 

Wallfish said she hopes people could see themselves in the characters, with a powerful woman as its protagonist. She said de Gouges was the only one to wear pants “like a badass” with a jacket that made her “look like a warrior.”

“We knew we wanted it to be time period inspired rather than accurate, with some modern elements in it,” Wallfish said.

Wallfish said she used layers and costume changes to show the characters’ development and experiences. For example, Antoinette began the play wearing a wide, lifted pink gown, but as she became “more humanized” through the play, the gown shrank.

De Gouges is sentenced to death by guillotine at the end and as she awaits her fate, Angelle reminds her that the audience is watching her and the story. She emotionally looks to the audience and thanks them for watching the play. 

“For me it was a beautiful moment because I was seeing my family members, my friends,” Lacombe Garcia said. “For me, I felt like I could truly thank the audience as Olympe, but also thank them for listening to me.”

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Twitter: @rajeevghanekar

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Twitter: @karapeeler

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