PICTURED: Rosie Gordon (Charlotte Corday), Sarah Broughton (Olympe de Gouges), Aileen-Marie Scott (Marie Antoinette) and Juliana Acosta (Marianne Angelle). Photo by Brian Stethem

by Emily Dodi

There is a lot to love about The Revolutionists, onstage at Santa Paula Theater Center through March 15. There is also much to talk about after the curtain and the guillotine fall.

This is a play about the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, after all. Paris, 1793, to be exact, and people will lose their heads. Not graphically portrayed onstage, thankfully. Although the giant omnipresent guillotine never lets us forget that the threat of the blade looms over the heads of aristocrat and citizen alike.

Most important, however, is that Lauren Gunderson’s bitingly funny play is about revolutionary courage, sacrifice and consequence — specifically that of four fierce women, three of which are based on actual historical figures.

One is Olympe de Gouges, the real-life writer and activist, played with fervor by a commanding Sarah Broughton. At the start of the play, Olympe is battling a case of writer’s block when Marianne Angelle (the effervescent and endearing Juliana Acosta) appears with a powerful proposition for Olympe. Marianne, who is a Caribbean spy, implores Olympe to write a pamphlet calling for the liberation of the enslaved people of the French colony Marianne calls home. As explained in the program notes, the character of Marianne is “an amalgamation of ideas and activists of the period” and is named after the feminine symbol of the French Republic.

The other two characters are Marie Antionette and Charlotte Corday. The endlessly enjoyable Aileen-Marie Scott is brilliant as the doomed Queen of France. The wonderful Rosie Gordon brings humor and warmth to her portrayal of the woman who assassinated the political leader Jean-Paul Marat. 

Gunderson weaves together historical fact and feverish dream to create a thought-provoking and powerfully entertaining play that suggests in not-so-subtle ways that past is prologue. (“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” as the French say, or “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”) The actual women may be long gone but many of the same issues and injustices persist. There are so many poignant and often very funny moments during The Revolutionists, particularly when the veil between the past, present and future dissolves.  

Director Jessi May Stevenson cleverly guides the cast through the complex twists that Gunderson lays out — from humor to drama, alienation to sisterhood, and from revolution to revelation. 

The crew is very much part of this winning production. Scenic and lighting designer Gary Richardson creates an ambience that is stark and yet rich. (That guillotine really is something.) Sound designers Stevenson and Allan Noel utilize pop music recorded on the violin to great effect to suggest the mingling of past and present. Costumer Barbara Pedziwiatr and props mistress Gail Heck do a laudable job in helping to paint the picture of four distinct and colorful personalities.

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment, SPTC’s 2020 season is made up entirely of plays written by women, including Gina Geonfridda’s Rapture, Blister, Burn (April 17-May 24); Annie Baker’s Circle, Mirror, Transformation (June 26-Aug. 2); Lucy Kirkwood’s The Children (Sept. 4-Oct. 11) and Agatha Christie’s The Secret of Chimneys (Nov. 13- Dec. 20).

The Revolutionists opens an exciting new season with much to look forward to — and much to talk about. 

Vive la révolution. 

The Revolutionists through March 15 at Santa Paula Theater Center, 125 South 7th Street, Santa Paula. For tickets and more information, call 805-525- 4645 or visit www.santapaulatheatercenter.org.