by Jess Hoffman

It’s hard to think of a more fitting production for Women’s History Month than Schenectady Civic Players’ current offering. The Revolutionists is a re-imagining of the lives of four historical women in the French Revolution that is so apropos of our current moment that one can forget that the play is set in eighteenth century France and not twenty-first century America.

The play opens with a red light in the background as tense music suggests the violence and fear that pervade the French Revolution, followed by our playwright protagonist Olympe de Gouges (portrayed by the talented Laura Darling) delivering the opening line: “That’s not a way to start a comedy.”

The lights come up on a set that is simple yet excellent: gray bricks, plain wood, and an understated gallows. Revolutionary buzzwords–“ÉGALITÉ” (equality), “SORORITÉ” (sisterhood), and “LIBERTÉ” (freedom)–are scrawled on the bricks in red paint. (Again, this is a play about the French Reign of Terror but even more so about our current historical moment.) To one side, a bare bones jail cell foreshadows events to come. This set, designed by David Zwierankin, is everything that it needs to be without drawing undue attention to itself. The simple set ensures the audience’s focus remains on the four main cast members. As it should.

Truly The Revolutionists could not have asked for a better cast. Jennifer Lefsyk portrays the assassin Charlotte Corday with a combination of determination and idealism that makes her character’s story all the more tragic. Monet Thompson-Young plays the fiery Marianne Angelle with moments of vulnerability that soften her character just enough to make her human, while still allowing her to be the unwavering revolutionary that she is. Laura Darling ties the play together as the lovably bombastic Olympe de Gouges, with whom all theater enthusiasts will undoubtedly identify. But the real star of the show is Kelly Sienkiewicz, whose Paris Hilton-like portrayal of the spoiled queen Marie Antoinette was so sincere, absurd, and unabashed that I couldn’t help but love her.

If the set seems designed to draw attention away from the background and toward the action of the play, the costumes are similarly designed to keep focus on the four actresses. Commendations should be given to costume designer Beth Ruman for all of the show’s costumes, but especially for the frilly pink dress and ridiculous pannier that Marie Antoinette struts around the stage in.

I’ve seen The Revolutionists described as a dark comedy, but this is not entirely accurate. A dark comedy, I would say, is a comedy where humor is found in darker themes. The Revolutionists draws its comedy from quippy metatheatrics and from the antics of its characters, especially the ditzy Marie Antoinette. Just when the self-referential dialogue and character-driven humor begin to get annoyingly heavy-handed, the play switches to a thoroughly dramatic exploration of violence and revolution, and the real women caught in the midst of a changing and terrifying world. 

To my surprise, The Revolutionists functions much better in its dramatic moments than in its comedic bits, but perhaps it is precisely these comedic scenes that make the tragedy so poignant. After a laugh-out-loud funny beginning, the jail scene between Charlotte and Marianne inserts a sudden change in tone and a sobering bit of reality into a play that had so far been quite farcical. The play then continues to switch tones from dramatic to comedic in ways that are sometimes poignant but other times give the spectator a sort of theatrical whiplash.

I wish that this production could find more moments to intertwine the comedy and the tragedy, rather than switching completely back and forth between them. It’s hard to say whether the production’s inability to comfortably marry comedy and tragedy is the fault of Jennifer Van Iderstyne’s direction or simply a product of Lauren Gunderson’s script; but it was a bit of a disappointment to see all the best elements of comedy and drama presented on stage where never the twain meet.

But what The Revolutionists lacks in nuance it makes up for in heart, and in the exceptional talent of its cast. Particularly savvy and skeptical theatergoers may be disappointed by a few of the play’s missed opportunities, but they are sure to enjoy the play as a whole.

Schenectady Civic Players presents The Revolutionists by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Jennifer Van Iderstyne, runs from March 17-26, 2023, at the Schenectady Civic Playhouse, 12 South Church Street in Schenectady, NY. Cast: Laura Darling as Olympe de Gouges, Monet Thompson-Young as Marianne Angelle, Jennifer Lefsyk as Charlotte Corday, and Kelly Sienkiewicz as Marie Antoinette. Assistant Director: Jean Carney. Stage Manager: Sara Baldwin. Board operator: Elise Charlebois. Producer: Kathy Friscic. Set design and lighting design by David Zwierankin. Set décor by Kathryn Fore. Sound design by Jennifer Van Iderstyne. Costume design by Beth Ruman. Hair and wigs by John Fowler. Props by Danielle Woodruff.

Performance dates are Friday–Sunday (March 17–19) and Wednesday–Sunday (March 22–26). Friday and Saturday curtains are at 8 pm, Wednesday and Thursday curtains are at 7:30 pm, and Sundays are matinees only at 2:30 pm. All tickets are $25. Runs approximately 2 hours with one intermission. Contains themes of violence, strong language, and one gunshot. Recommended for ages 13+. Tickets are available online through the SCP website, by phone, or at the door for any performance. Call 518-382-2081 or visit for more information.

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