Review: YSU’s ‘The Revolutionists’ Is Thought Provoking Theater

By J.E. Ballantyne, Jr.
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The above headline could have read “YSU’s ‘The Revolutionists’ Is Thought Provoking Drama.” But that would be misleading because it isn’t a drama; it’s a comedy; at least until the second act.

But then, how many “thought provoking” comedies can you name? “The Revolutionists” is set in 1793 France during the “Reign of Terror” during the French Revolution. The play, by Lauren Gunderson, is comprised of four very strong women of the time: Olympe DeGouge, Marianne Angelle, Charlotte Corday, and Marie Antoinette. Most people will only be familiar with Antoinette but the other three match her every step of the way.

As lights come up the audience meets DeGouge, a French playwright and political activist, played by Meganne Evans. She greets the audience directly and opens the show with a short monologue. She is energetic, feisty, passionate about her cause for equal rights for women and the abolishment of slavery; all of the things you would expect in your typical activist. But she is also passionate about her playwrighting and she is willing to protect it at all costs. Evans is so believable in her portrayal that you want to jump out of your seat and take up her “banner.” But, there are problems. Problems that I will deal with later.

She is visited by an old friend, Marianne Angelle played by Grayson McCrory. The two obviously have a past friendship. Angelle seems more directly involved with the aforementioned movement than DeGouge and requests that her friend make her some pamphlets to support the cause. McCrory portrays a very strong character, presenting Angelle as someone who knows what she wants and what is needed and is not willing to take no for an answer. Their character seems to be the most practically minded of the four. McCrory exudes confidence in the role. You have no problem believing they are truly committed to the cause. All the while, DeGouge is fighting to find not only a title for her next play but a subject as well.

DeGouge even suggests that perhaps it should be a musical to which Angelle wonders .who would want a musical about the French Revolution? The early scene between these two women is sharp, witty, jabbing and totally believable as the activist spars with the artist.

Enter Charlotte Corday, excellently played by Elise Vargo. Corday knocks on DeGouge’s door and states that she is looking for a writer but that she only needs “a line.” The audience doesn’t know what “the line.” is for, nor do the other characters on stage. Soon Corday announces that she is “an assassin” and intends to kill Jean-Paul Marat, a journalist and politician responsible for the deaths of scores of French citizens.

Brandishing a lethal looking butcher knife, Vargo plays Corday to the hilt. She gets all the big laughs in the first act, all the while making use of her knife to make each “point.”  

Keep in mind, that the physical attributes of Vargo belie any tendency toward violence of any type. Her casting by director Matthew Mazuroski adds more humor to the situation than the author may have intended. And Vargo’s characterization and facial mobility win the audience over to this supposed “dangerous militant.” Her timing and her delivery add a lovable layer that the audience grabs onto right away.

Finally, the audience meets the final member of the quartet; Marie Antoinette. The one time Queen of France before the Revolution, played by Amberlynn Zuccarell. Zuccarell presents a vision of Antoinette that mot people probably don’t expect. Small in stature and with a somewhat flighty personality, Zuccarell challenges Vargo for laughs during the balance of Act I. Zuccarell’s portrayal is light and somewhat unattached to the other three passionate revolutionist. Her delivery is so natural it is almost like she is making up the lines on the spot.

But with all the comedy in Act I, things turn very dark in Act II. The French Revolution comes knocking on the door in search of each of our four heroes. One by one, they must answer for their positions on the Revolution. Each actress shows a complete turn about in this act. The laughs that were plentiful earlier turn into taut drama. Each actor shows their considerable versatility as “Madame Gulliotine” draws near. The scene between DeGouge and Angelle in Act II is strong theater and examines the question of commitment to “the cause” and the role of “the arts” in influencing needed social and political change. Both women set the stage on fire in this scene.

One of the most appealing things about Gunderson’s play is that it is written in contemporary language rather than in a French style. This makes the entire vehicle more relative to current times in addition to a more direct attachment to the audience. 

Director Matthew Mazuroski has assembled an excellent cast and together they have told a strong and relevant story that resonates from the late 1700s right up to this day. This is a must see!  

“The Revolutionists” will continue Oct. 7. 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 9 at 2 p.m.

Pictured at top: The cast of “The Revolutionists” includes Grayson McCrory, Meganne Evans and Elise Vargo. Not pictured: Amberlynn Zuccarell.

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