Given today’s political climate, it is easy to draw parallels between various historical dramas and the current state of America. Portrayals of turbulent periods in history have much to say about the repetition of the past in the present, and Austin’s theater companies are not shying away from material that can easily be interpolated within a contemporary context.
Such is the case with Shrewd Productions’ “The Revolutionists,” playing at the Santa Cruz Center for Culture through June 25. Written by Lauren Gunderson and originally produced in 2015, the black comedy about four women in the French Revolution speaks to issues of women’s rights that remain unresolved today.
Director Rudy Ramirez neither shies away from nor leans into the comparisons between the French Reign of Terror and today’s America but rather allows the text to seduce audience members into reaching those conclusions on their own. Gunderson’s play does this through a variety of tried-and-true theatrical tricks, including high comedy, bleak drama and dream-like reverie. As a text it’s somewhat hard to pin down, with a light, comedic, almost sitcom-esque first act (which feels like it could be cut down a bit) and a brutal, moving second act featuring key moments of beautiful and simple theatricality.
Fortunately, Ramirez and his talented quartet of actresses are able to mine the somewhat uneven text for its moments of both great wit and moving tragedy. Sarah Marie Curry, as playwright Olympe De Gouge, provides the heart of the production, as well as the most extreme emotional transition, as she begins to watch what little power and privilege she holds disappear among the corruption of the Reign of Terror. Her friend Marianne Angelle, an activist for Caribbean freedom from French occupation, is presented with a steady intellectual bent by Valoneecia Tolbert, the conscience of the play. Gricelda Silva, as assassin Charlotte Corday, brings in an element of in-your-face punk rock attitude, while Shannon Grounds’ oblivious-yet-likable Marie Antoinette provides reams of comic relief undergirded by a strong sense of personal tragedy.
The show’s creative team (set designer Chris Conard, lighting designer Patrick Anthony and sound designer David DeMaris) wisely sticks to a rather minimalist aesthetic, allowing the text and the performances to hold sway. The one exception is Jennifer Rose Davis’ gorgeous costumes, which provide the period-placement for the action while simultaneously evoking the central characters of each of the women.
Though dealing with large themes — the rights of women, the excesses of revolution, the fortitude to outlast corrupt regimes — “The Revolutionists” is an intimate play, dealing with the relationships of the four women and the emotional toll that these issues take on them. Shrewd Productions’ mounting of the show focuses intently on this intimacy, creating a dark, funny and moving tribute to the long, ongoing history of the fight for women’s rights.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday through June 25, with additional performance 8 p.m. June 19
Where: Santa Cruz Studio Theater, 1805 E. Seventh St.