“That’s so meta” is a phrase you hear bandied about a lot these days. It’s usually used to describe a reference by someone about themselves. Metatheatre is a style of play that acknowledges it is a play within a play – actors are aware of the audience and may interact with them or acknowledge they’re actors and not the characters they play, or they’ll reference props, sets, location, etc.
Playwright Lauren Gundersen takes metatheatre to the extreme with The Revolutionists, her story of a French playwright’s attempt to write an “important” play about the French Revolution. It’s running now at 6th Street Playhouse’s Studio Theatre through April 7.
The play opens with Olympe de Gouges (Tara Howley Hudson) headed for the guillotine until she realizes that’s no way to start a comedy. As de Gouges struggles with writer’s block, she’s visited by Marianne Angelle (Serena Elize Flores) – the only fictional character in the play – a Caribbean revolutionary seeking independence for her island and an end to the slave trade. She needs de Gouges help in writing pamphlets and declarations.
A bellowing at the door heralds the arrival of Charlotte Corday (Chandler Parrott-Thomas), soon-to-be-assassin of Jean-Paul Marat. She’s looking for a “last line” to utter after the deed that’ll be remembered.
They’re soon joined by Marie Antoinette (Lydia Revelos) who insists she did not say that thing she’s been accused of saying and just needs better press.
These four “bad ass” women challenge each other as to their place in history and the role of the artist in the world before meeting their fates. One remains to tell their stories.
Director Lennie Dean has an excellent cast at work here. Hudson is solid as the insecure playwright struggling to find the right words for everything. Flores communicates as much with a look as she does with a page of dialogue. Parrott-Thomas keeps her slightly-unhinged character just this side of insane. Revelos takes the cake as Marie Antoinette, managing to be both touching and hilarious. It’s a break-out performance.
The Revolutionists has interesting characters, great performances, and effective design work that are too-often overwhelmed by Gunderson’s need to wrap it all up in a meta-theatrical cloak. It diminishes some really interesting points about women in history and the arts. The play would be better if she had used a metaphysical guillotine and cut a lot of it out.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★½
‘The Revolutionists’ runs through April 7 at the 6th Street Playhouse Studio Theatre, 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday, 7:30pm; Saturday–Sunday, 2pm. $18–$28. 707.523.4185. 6thstreetplayhouse.com
Photos by Eric Chazankin
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.