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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
WAM's production remounted by its own director Kristen Van Ginhoven explores a riveting story of a remarkable woman whose life seems thoroughly modern even though she lived from 1706-1749. Stifled by her mother who tried to rein her into the sensibilities of aristocratic French expectations, Emilie managed to become educated and move beyond female restrictions. Emilie's father and her husband recognized her brilliance and she grew to become more than a mere wife and mother. She studied physics and mathematics enough to become a respected author and admired philosopher.
Emilie also seemed to enjoy a healthy sex life outside of her marriage to an understanding and indulgent husband and enjoyed a long relationship, both sexually and intellectually, with the famous French writer, philosopher, Voltaire (nee Francoise-Marie Arouet 1694-1778). As partners they worked on a book The Elements of the Foundation of Physics and argued over "the nature and propagation of fire."
Gunderson celebrates Emilie's life on several levels while integrating biographical, romantic and philosophical personas into a rapid revisitation of important memories which shaped her transition into a great thinker and possible forerunner to Einstein. Through the use of a fluid scenic design by Julianne von Haubrich, three parallel tiers of gauzy curtains allow for seamless scene changes throughout time and space.
Stauffer as Emilie is assisted by a talented, energetic cast of four actors who help recall to life a woman bent on dissecting and expanding on Newton's theories, while exploring the concept of pure love and the possibility of a perfect intellectual as well as sexual bond between a man and a woman as equals. She wants it all. Emilie is way ahead of her time. Stauffer’s beauty and vivacity underscore Emilie's brilliance as she burns with the desire to live life to the utmost… to know more!
The set design allows Emilie to refer to and write on a hallway of chalkboards covered with accurate calculus formulas while referring to a trompe l'oeil library from which actual tomes emerge. She scribbles her ideas on the walls and the floors as she feverishly attempts to make use of her final moments to prove her theories.
Haubrick's fluctuating sets are complemented by Govane Lohbauer's detailed adaptable period costumes and Brad Berridge’s luminous lighting design remounted by Lily Fossner. All of the set elements combine, underscored by original music of Vincent Olivieri aid the actors in rapid kinetic costume and set changes. There is nothing static in this production.
Gunderson's writing and Von Ginhoven's direction move everything into a madly orbiting universe of the concepts and experiences which encompass Emilie's life. In scene after scene the characters careen from raunchy humor to discussions of Liebniz's physics to memories of tender and loving encounters.. The knowledge of science is not necessary to understand the conflict between Emilie's inner aspirations and human liaisons.
The Marquise's story is remarkable in light of the fact that even until recently women's presence in the fields of science and mathematics was discouraged if not out and out ridiculed by the predominantly male establishment.
During her short lifetime (Emilie died at 42 due to an unexpected pregnancy) this feisty and brilliant woman was made a member of The Academy of Sciences. She wrote an article on optic energy and the nature of free will including a complete analysis of The Bible. and translated a still standard version of Newton's Principia Mathematica. Gunderson employs other actors to portray Emilie's saga and to allow her, at times, to step out of her story and observe. Kim Stauffer is the shining sun about which other spheres in the form of talented multi-roled actors revolve and help illuminate the intriguing elements of Emilie's story. Oliver Wadsworth as the indomitable Voltaire is a competitive petulant child/man who both desires Emilie and yet resents her brilliance when she dares to disagree with him and exert her own intelligence. He is, by turns, ridiculous, preening and pathetic.
Suzanne Ankrum's gracefully allows Emilie to see herself and other female members of her time period. She is able to recreate the earthier moments of her life, while Stauffer entertains the heavier arguments and intellectual pursuits. Brendan Cataldo plays Emilie's husband, younger lover and other male figures with panache and humor.
Joan Coombs as various noblewomen, maids and Emilie's mother is able to shift character with a quick suggestion of costume, a head nod or knowing smile. The four actors evince chameleon-like abilities and they become whomever we are meant to believe they are as they dart on and off the stage with a flick of a gauze curtain. All of which enhance the powerful stage images as well as the whimsical production values.
Stauffer as Emilie, aided by the terrific supporting actors, flirts, ponders, argues, and romps through a fanciful, humorous and poignant story of a woman who deserved "More Time."
Though WAM promotes females in a male-dominated profession, their productions are human- oriented and of interest to all. The company donates a percentage of their box office gross to institutions which support women, especially youngsters with a chance to experience lives beyond a limited agenda. This production will underwrite the Flying Cloud Institute that offers young women a chance to expand on scientific knowledge. The Marquise advocated strongly for women enjoying access to higher education. She would be proud.
Like Emilie, we have been afforded another chance to lose ourselves in a fascinating story of love, loss and immortality through ideas. It runs at Shakespeare and Company's Tina Packer Playhouse only until April 9. Take advantage of this opportunity.
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Emilie, La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Kristen van Ginhoven
Cast: Suzanne Ankrum (Soubrette) Brendan Cataldo (Gentleman) Joan Coombs (Madam) Kim Stauffer (Emilie) Oliver Wadsworth (Voltaire)
Scenic Design: Juliana Von Haubrich
Costume Design: Govane Lohbauer Lighting Design: Andi Lyons (Original Production) Lily Fossner (Remount) Sound/Projection Design: Brad Berridge (Original Production) Joel Abbott (Remount) Stage Manager: Laura Kathryne Gomez Composer:Vincent Olivieri Running Time: 2 hours, one intermission WAM Theatre Company at Shakespeare & Co. Tina Packer Playhouse From 3/30/17; opening 4/1/2017; closing 4/9/2017. Reviewed at March 30 preview.
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