An edgy, dark comedy featuring an all-woman cast opens Oct. 4 at San Juan College
'The Revolutionists' focuses on the four women's roles in the French Revolution
FARMINGTON — For an event that unfolded approximately 225 years ago in Europe, the French Reign of Terror doesn't seem all that far removed from contemporary societal upheaval.
That's especially true when viewed through the prism of playwright Lauren Gunderson's "The Revolutionists," which the San Juan College Theatre department will stage over the next two weekends.
"It's very politically current," said Linann Easley, the college's fine arts center director who is leading the production. "Regardless of what your political views are, you can really relate these ladies and their desire to create change in their community."
"The Revolutionists" features a cast of only four actors — all of them women — but it packs a wallop, casting its strong-willed, ill-fated characters against a backdrop of violence and extremism. And yet it never lacks in humor. No wonder Easley describes it as a dark comedy, though she hastens to add it doesn't stay on the rib-tickling side too long.
"It's been on my radar for a while," Easley said of "The Revolutionists" before putting her cast and crew through a rehearsal earlier this week. "A lot of my friends in New York and Los Angeles had been talking about it."
Easley knew the edgy play would be a departure from many of the productions the college stages. But she maintained "The Revolutionists" is a very approachable play, and she said the dialog is handled very maturely.
At the same time, "The Revolutionists" offers the kind of challenging material that attracts many performers. Easley said she didn't have any actors in mind for the specific parts when she committed to producing the play, but she was confident she would have no trouble filling out her cast.
"It's kind of, 'Build it, and they will come,'" she said.
That turned out to be exactly what happened.
"We had fabulous auditions," Easley said. "I had a very strong pool of talent to choose from. … That was very pleasing. You often cast people not because they're the best, but because they're right for the role or they bring something special to a part. Each of these four women bring their own unique gift to the production."
The cast features Carissa J. Arpelar as Charlotte Corday, an assassin; Amber Glasgow as Olympe de Gouges, a playwright; Brianna Chavez as Marianne Angelle, a Haitian rebel; and Jacqueline Papp as Marie Antoinette, the former queen. Glasgow and Easley had worked together before, on a Sandstone Productions presentation of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" several years ago, but she has no experience with the other three performers.
But their energy and youth — two of them are still in high school, Easley noted — were exactly what she was looking for as she sought actors capable of providing just the right tone of insurgency and exuberance. After all, these were women who were trying to change the world.
Easley is confident she found the right performers.
"The girls have done a fantastic job, and they hold their own," she said.
With the French Revolution raging in the background of the play, Easley made some very specific choices in regard to other aspects of the production. The costumes — an element in which Easley specializes — are elaborate and historically correct, leading her to compare them to the outfits featured in the 1988 Stephen Frears film "Dangerous Liasions" starring John Malkovich, Glenn Close and Michelle Pfeiffer.
By way of contrast, her sets are far more modest, a choice that matches the limited size of the cast. That approach is epitomized by her choice to avoid having a guillotine on stage despite its status as an omnipresent element of the revolution.
"There is not a physical representation of a guillotine," she said. "As an audience member, you have to decide where the action is taking place, so we're going with extremely minimal representations."
On the other hand, the show is a technically heavy production, relying on those sensory elements to help build the suspense.
"We didn't want the guillotine to be constantly looming in their future," Easley said. "We're relying on lights and sound to be the physical representation of their future."
Performances of "The Revolutionists" will be presented at 7 p.m. Oct. 4-5 and 11-12, and at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 in the Little Theatre on the college campus, 4601 College Blvd. in Farmington. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and $8 for children 12 and younger. Visit sanjuancollege.edu/silhouette or call 505-566-3430.
Reporter Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610.
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