Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight
Review by Gary Gonser, SFBATCC
By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Patricia Miller
For tickets / schedule :
Marin Art & Garden Center Barn Theatre
Ross Valley Players
RUN: January 13 – February 5, 2017
RATING: 4.5 of 5 stars
(January 14, 2017)
Emilie becomes the retelling of the life of La Marquise du Châtelet, with all the nuances remembered to create a coherent fabric. She existed and the events are real. The rich story of her life is laid out after her death, by Emilie herself interacting with her main characters.
Lauren Gunderson’s premise is superb to sweep the viewer into the story at the right time and place of the adult Marquise, to take us where we need to go: into the Age of Enlightenment of the 18th century. Contrary to our current world outlook, the enlightenment focused on science to bring us out of the door opened by the Renaissance, and into the light of progress. Adding Voltaire as the counterpoint to our Emilie provides the perfect balance to the telling.
This play is an amazing production. Gunderson’s script is difficult with concepts that could be lost in a lesser production. Patricia Miller has laid out a feast of ideas for us in a coherent fashion. The French and American Revolutions had not yet happened, Newton was developing his ideas of the universe, and Louis XIV ruled France with an open attitude that fostered scientific exploration. 300 years later, we focus on one woman who lived and worked in that time.
Emilie is our perfect heroine: rich, educated, aristocratic, and published. But she was not happy with the results of her life. The play has Emilie interacting with her history again. She was fond of tying love, as the human dilemma, and philosophy, as the scientific dilemma, together into an understandable science of the universe. These ideas are fused to suggest that a life lived fully can change the universe. The play sets the stage for her to reshape her destiny to realize this end, or not.
Robyn Grahn is fantastic as Emilie. Her surprise and authenticity at the retelling is packed with emotion and energy that sweeps along with her. Here, she is able to interact with her life and change it; what a promise! Grahn takes advantage of the concept and runs with it: flowing from situation to documentation to understanding to speaking out against the limits imposed upon her by her age and peers. This is no small feat. I congratulate Grahn on her wonderful achievement in this production.
Catherine Luedtke worked no small magic as the probable Voltaire who loved Emilie, but who also loved the superiority of man as promoted by 18th century France. Balancing Voltaire’s humanity with the elements of a man wanting to succeed in his world of the court and the scientific community was tricky. Luedtke played up to the challenge, while remaining appropriately in the background to Emilie’s development.
Tamar Cohn played many parts to Emilie’s retelling. She was maid, mom, critic, and collaborator to round out and add color to many scenes. Cohn’s obvious flexibility comes out on this stage. As Emilie’s mother, Cohn explains just how happy she is in her very small world in the household. We can’t wait for Emilie to explode at the very thought of being so confined. Cohn was never the “fifth wheel” of the scenes, but became the very talented opposition needed to complete the role.
Neiry Rojo moved through time with grace and sexuality, playing the “real” Emilie with Voltaire, then Voltaire’s niece and other parts. Rojo was never an extension of the retelling, but was the embodiment of the physical interactions needed to prove the love in relationship to the philosophical questions so required by our heroine.
Shoresh Alaudini plays many parts through Emilie’s life, from her husband to her lover. He is a new actor and works well in these parts.
Reliving one’s life is difficult. There are so many things that we forget in the retelling. Emilie’s set is perfect to separate out the science in a classroom opposite the love in the bedroom. The center of the stage is clear to develop Emilie’s relationships to both. Appropriate to the Age of Enlightenment, Grahn smoothly uses mathematics to define the forces of nature in her life, writing and modifying the equations to match her and our development.