You probably know about Charlotte Corday. She assassinated the bloodthirsty
French revolutionary leader Jean-Paul Marat. You certainly know about Marie
Antoinette, the Vienna-born French queen famously separated from her head
during the Reign of Terror. All you can possibly know about Marianne
Angelle is what playwright Lauren Gunderson tells you in The Revolutionists, running now at the Greenhouse in a supple,
often amusing Organic Theater Company production. Gunderson invented
Angelle to represent Caribbean women who fought French colonial rule even
as the French themselves were massacring one another in the name of
liberté, egalité, and fraternité.

In the play, all three women connect through Olympe de Gouges, whom you
almost certainly don’t know, though she was real and easily as interesting
as the others. A playwright and activist, de Gouges wrote the “Declaration
of the Rights of Woman and the Female Citizen,” which (ugly irony) made her
suspect to the leaders of the French Revolution. She ended up on the
guillotine.

De Gouges’s last words were a demand addressed to her fellow citizens: “You
will avenge my death!” In a way, that’s what Gunderson’s done here, by
reviving her story, at once humanizing and ennobling her struggle. There’s
a lot I don’t like about The Revolutionists, starting with a
cutesy, sub-Sarah Ruhlian use of anachronism that tests our patience and
threatens to subvert Gunderson’s insights. But Bryan Wakefield’s cast is
strong, the subject is more than worthy, and a major subtheme concerning
the cruel piety of would-be revolutionaries speaks volumes about the
current political moment-even, just for instance, the Chicago theater
community.   v