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Émilie – La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight ~ WSC Avant Bard

Jordan Wright
October 20, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

(From left:) Sara Barker (Emilie), Brit Herring (Voltaire) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

(l-r) Sara Barker (Emilie), Brit Herring (Voltaire) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

The story of Émilie, La Marquise du Châtelet, a woman of science lightyears ahead of her time, is yet another thrilling play by Lauren Gunderson, the most-produced living playwright in America this season.  It’s an intellectually-minded comic drama that delivers both wit and passion in spades.  Based on the true story of the noted physicist and her decades-long collaboration with Voltaire, the 18th C poet, historian, and political rabble rouser, it appeals to an audience longing for representations of women of substance – especially those pioneers of science who fought hard for recognition in a male-dominated society.  The latest to have been brought to our attention is Katherine Johnson, the African-American mathematician whose story was depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie, Hidden Figures.

(From left:) Lisa Hodsoll (Madam), Billie Krishawn (Soubrette), Sara Barker (Emilie), Steve Lebens (Gentleman) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

(l-r) Lisa Hodsoll (Madam), Billie Krishawn (Soubrette), Sara Barker (Emilie), Steve Lebens (Gentleman) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

In the role of a lifetime Sara Barker as Émilie provides us with a breathtaking, woman-in-full performance.  Barker’s uncanny ability to get into the skin of the famed scientist and author is nothing less than spectacular.  In defending the Marquise’s theory, a departure from Newton’s original, ‘Force, Motion, Mass Squared’ (“The squaring adds Life,” she concludes), Barker more than adopts Émilie’s brain, she appears to viscerally inhabit it.

In this plot, Émilie is eloquently matched by Voltaire, a mercurial romantic with an egotistical intellect, played admirably by Brit Herring.  Together they form an alliance of ideas, “You’re a stunning woman, and an impressive man,” he tells her backhandedly.  Until, ultimately, when she proves she is the true scientist of the two, he defames her, portraying her to the men of the Academy of Sciences as an insignificant female dilettante.

(From left:) Billie Krishawn (Soubrette), Sara Barker (Emilie), Brit Herring (Voltaire) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

(l-r) Billie Krishawn (Soubrette), Sara Barker (Emilie), Brit Herring (Voltaire) ~ Photo credit: DJ Corey Photography

Director Rick Hammerly has Émilie keeping score of both her scholarly and romantic successes on framed panels of glass.  She is fiercely competitive!  When she wins an argument, or one-ups Voltaire, she makes white chalk marks to indicate her triumphs.  Other furnishings combine 18th century elegance, like a curved leg writing desk and sparkling crystal chandelier, with modern day chrome and Lucite used in a madcap scene of musical chairs.  Female actors wear corsets and paniers with denim jeans to parallel modern day misogyny.  Especially noteworthy is Joseph R. Walls dramatic lighting and Frank DiSalvo Jr.’s sound design incorporating period music and striking sound effects.

Gunderson uses hilarity to depict their quixotic love scenes as when Voltaire aims to distract her with words of love.  “Be my muse,” he implores.  “Stop wooing, I can’t think,” she replies.

If I gave out stars (which as you know I don’t), this one would have five!  Go!

With Lisa Hodsoll as Madam, Billie Krishawn as Soubrette, and Steve Lebens as Gentleman.

Through November 12th at Gunston Arts Center, Theatre Two – 2700 South Lang Street, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 418.4808 or go online at www.AvantBard.org/tickets

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