The Revolutionists

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REVIEW by G.W. Mercure

The Reign of Terror during the French Revolution is the backdrop and primary source of conflict for The Revolutionists. The creation of a revolutionary tribunal immediately following the French Revolution led to a period of massacres and executions amid accusations of treason and disloyalty. Four more or less historical figures gather and debate their responses to the ongoing pogroms, including Marie Antoinette (Paige O’Connor), a playwright (Christina Leidel), a Haitian rebel (Andrea Bellamore, who firmly grounds the production) and Charlotte Corday, the assassin of Jean-Paul Marat (Hannah Hakim).

Late in the first act, Marie Antoinette wonders on the logic of the word “revolution” in the action’s context. A good study of the set and costumes drives home the point: everywhere are broken loops and incomplete circles, from ropes and curtains to the exposed farthingale corsets beneath the characters’ dresses. Despite the violence and tumult of 1793, for marginalized groups such as women, a revolution just brings everything back where it started. The king is dead; long live the king. The struggle for real, egalitarian, and sustained political change is the primary conflict of The Revolutionists. To that end, the revolutionaries marauding the streets are not allies, but Marie Antoinette—woman, widow, victim, mother—is.

The play, which is deftly directed by Megan Nussle’s restrained hand and expertly played by the small ensemble, is dialogue-heavy and dialogue-driven. Much of the action happens offstage or is learned about via dialogue or even letters. While that structure can make it impossible to follow an event from its cause to its most immediate consequence, it does serve an ensemble cast well, and the strength of The Revolutionists is in the way the players own the stage and the dialogue and revel in the dramatic chemistry they’ve developed with each other. It’s a trade-off that works.

The Revolutionists is a comedy, and when it is played for laughs it doesn’t disappoint (keep your ears open for a zinger about Thomas Jefferson), but its heart is its drama. It’s tempting to see it through a lens that is colored by political events in the U.S. in the last five years, but The Revolutionists was first published in 2017. Still, it makes central any questions a viewer may have about how to respond to trauma on such a grand scale, and there is almost no limit to its relevance in that capacity. Besides its obvious relevance, The Revolutionists is also interesting to look at, passionately acted, provocative in the most urgent ways, and a compelling play that demands your close attention.

The Revolutionists is performed at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater, Julie Harris Stage, 2357 Rte. 6, Tuesdays –Saturdays, 8 p.m. and Sunday, 4 p.m. through September 17. Masks and proof of vaccination are required. For tickets ($15 – $40) and information call 508.349.9428 or visit what.org.