Spine: ‘The Revolutionists’: Women One and All (Article)

The coming revolution will truly be remarkable. True equality for all men … and women; in fact, the woman’s revolution, when that barbarous testosterone is finally put in its place, which is not in leadership, is not too far in the future.

Playwright Lauren Gunderson.
Playwright Lauren Gunderson.

Such is the dream, the desire, the “want” of Lauren Gunderson’s new play, The Revolutionists, now playing (for 3 more days only) at The Catholic University’s Harkte Theatre.

For our review by John Stoltenberg click here.

Gunderson uses the French Revolution, that oh so bloody, guillotine-rich revolution, as an iconic setting for her feminine revolution. Her play is a mash-up of sorts: historically, France circa 1790; sensibility, flippant American, circa 2015. The results are odd, to say the least.

Gunderson snatches Olympe De Gouge from historical obscurity to lead the charge. As a playwright of the revolution and as the writer of the Declaration of the Rights of Woman, De Gouge makes a good choice as a leading feminist. She is joined by three other women of the period and the place.

We also have Louis’ Queen, Marie Antionette; not really a revolutionist by any stretch, feminine or otherwise, but as De Gouge called for a constitutional monarchy, a fitting member of Gunderson’s crew.

Charlotte Corday, assassin of revolutionary writer Jean-Paul Marat, seeks out De Gouge to help her write her explanation for the assassination. As Corday was a sympathizer of the Gironde, of whom De Gouge was a member and against whom Marat wrote vehemently, the historical connections are solid.

Finally, Gunderson gives us Marianne Angel Ogé, wife of Vincent Ogé, one of the early leaders of the revolution in Haiti that began during the French Revolution.

What Corday, Marie Antionette, and De Gouge also share with one another is the distinct honor (or dishonor) of having their heads removed during the Reign of Terror when the male dominated Jacobins came to power.

Revolutions and the betrayal of their ideals is of great contemporary interest in America these days, and the French Revolution and its proclamations regarding the equality of all people tops that list. The bloodletting of the Terror is perhaps why; perhaps, it is all too parallel to more recent beheadings.

Ironically, the American Revolution and its betrayal of its ideals is steadfastly avoided by  playwrights in the United States: “all men are created equal” soon became all landowning white men, so on and so forth. The French and their betrayal make, it seems, for easier targets.

Gunderson’s feminist take on the revolution is, on the one hand, clear. She wants a revolution that lives up to its ideals: a revolution in which all people truly are treated equally. She also, however, wants a more peaceful revolution, one without so much blood, although Marat’s blood is fine.


On the other hand, beyond this proclamation Gunderson’s play does not focus.

Is The Revolutionists really about the distinctions between history and fiction? As De Gouge, the playwright, completes her script, France Perserved, or the Tyranny Dethroned, she celebrates her ability to free herself from history’s tragic endings. She doesn’t complete the play; yet, the play gets her executed.

Or is The Revolutionists really about how unjust the purges of the Reign of Terror were? That time was, to be sure, full of injustice; but as the French Revolution initiated the collapse of the monarchial system throughout Europe, mightn’t one expect a few beheadings?

Or is The Revolutionists really about how all women, no matter what their background, are really revolutionists? From the Angel of Assassinations the upper middle class Charlotte Corday, to the ditsy Queen of Cake, Marie Antionette, to the passionate upper class feminist Olympe De Gouge, to the wife of a wealthy colonial freeman, Marianne Angel Ogé, each of these women are one. Or are they?

Despite the play’s lack of focus, its underlying dream is potent.

As Jimmy Carter recently proclaimed: “I think the worst human rights abuse on Earth is the horrible persecution and deprivation of equal rights of women and girls.”

As The Revolutionists swirls around that issue, it most definitely swirls around one of the 21st centuries most pressing problems.

Now, about that bloodless revolution: even Thomas Jefferson said: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it’s natural manure.”

But if anyone can pull it off, it will be the world’s women.

Running Time: 2 hours, with an intermission.


The Revolutionists has four more performances remaining: tonight at 7:30 PM;Saturday, April 25, 2015 at 2 PM and 7:30 PM; and Sunday, April 26, 2015, at 2 PM at The Catholic University’s Hartke Theatre – 3801 Harewood Road NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call (202) 319-4000, purchase them at the box office, or online.


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