The assassin needs a writer.
The queen really, really loves ribbons.
The streets of Paris are slick with the blood of revolutionaries — and the guillotine hangs ominously over all.
Three historical figures and one reality-based composite character collide in Lauren Gunderson’s “The Revolutionists,” coming to the Bainbridge Performing Arts stage Friday, March 8, an irreverent and timely girl-powered comedy set during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror.
The setting and costumes are strictly period, but the witty rapport and overall concerns are très moderne.
The intimate cast of just four — three BPA newbies and one familiar figure — is led by Island Treasure awardee Kate Carruthers, whose past directing credits include “August: Osage County,” “Amadeus,” “Snow Falling on Cedars,” and “The Kentucky Cycle,” among many others. And it was actually she who lobbied for adding “The Revolutionists” to the production schedule in the first place.
“I was the one who proposed the play to BPA when I discovered Lauren Gunderson — or when the world, when American theater — discovered Lauren Gunderson,” the director said. “I heard that she was the most produced playwright in the United States — playwright period, not female playwright; the most produced playwright in the United States in 2017 — and I went, ‘Who is she? Why don’t I know her name?’”
Quickly, Carruthers learned more than the author’s name, reading everything by Gunderson she could — and just as quickly finding a favorite.
“This is the play that I was completely hooked and taken by,” Carruthers said.
“It’s funny and it’s telling a story about women that most people don’t know. It’s very feminist and it’s very funny and I thought it’s so timely, we need a play like this where women are empowered.”
In the surprisingly fact-based story, playwright and activist Olympe de Gouges, revolutionary assassin Charlotte Corday, former queen Marie Antoinette, and Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle hang out, dish, murder Jean-Paul Marat and try to beat back the extremist insanity in 1793 Paris.
“Lauren drew this from real transcripts, real events and actual words that were spoken by these characters,” Carruthers said. “The way that their lives cross during the play was made up by [Gunderson], but their lives in real life did intersect, just not as directly as we see here.”
Also not exactly true to life is the actual character of Angelle, a composite figure based on revolutionaries in the French colony of Saint Domingue (now Haiti), where, in 1791, enslaved people rose up and started what was the first successful slave revolt in history.
Gunderson described her as a thirty-something “badass black woman in Paris. She is from the Caribbean, a free woman, a spy working with her husband, Vincent. Tough, classy, vigilant, the sanest one of them all.”
The indomitable Angelle is played in the BPA production by Kerrie Thornton. Meg Wolf is de Gouges, Callie Turner is Corday and returning BPA performer Justine Stillwell is Antoinette.
For Carruthers, who has led large and small casts alike, the slim roster of players was nothing new, though it does allow her favorite aspects of Gunderson’s tale to shine.
“She has a wonderful ability, not only to write great stories, she writes great dialogue and characters and she writes really strong powerful women,” the director said. “And she tells very moving stories but she uses humor a lot to do it.”
The humor is an essential aspect of the story, cast member Wolf agreed. A spoonful of sugar, so to speak, which makes the sometimes strong moral medicine more palatable.
“It’s feminist in the true sense of feminism, but it’s not man-bashing in any way,” Wolf said. “There’s not a single sentence in this play … there is never a moment of being like, ‘Oh, men suck.’
“I don’t want people thinking they’re going to come and be attacked,” she added. “It’s the true sense of comedy in that’s uniting. I would defy anybody to walk away from this play offended or insulted.”
The director agreed, saying both the tone and subject were only more timely since the play’s debut.
“This is not a chick play, this is not a man-bashing play,” Carruthers said. “It’s definitely feminist, it’s definitely political, but I love that she does it with humor.
“It’s so timely to have it now, really. It’s just so perfect to be working on a play that is about at time where women didn’t have rights and were fighting for them and paying a terrible price for speaking out. And it’s happening all over again.”
“The Revolutionists” runs Friday, March 8 through Sunday, March 24 at BPA (200 Madison Ave. North) with evening shows at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and matinees at 3 p.m. Sunday.
A pay-what-you-can preview performance will be held at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, and the opening night reception is 6:30 p.m. Friday, March 8.
Also, First Saturday Teen Tickets are $5 per person at the BPA box office on the night of the show. Teen Tickets cannot be pre-booked and are subject to availability.
Box office hours are 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and one hour prior to each performance.