Sunday, September 3, 2017

Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson


Marc Forget, Sammi Smith - Photos by John Klopping

Emilie does defend her life.  But is it really her life?  Yes, it is, but in this version of the play, it is possibly another time, another place, and in another dimension.

Coeurage theatre company (the pay what you want theatre company) presents Emilie:  La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson and directed by Julianne Donelle is now playing at the Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles through September 17, 2017.

Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life is simultaneously exasperating and exhilarating in the way one character manages to prove her life, in her own truth, and in a story with many sides. Overall, the play is about Émilie du Châtelet, a French natural philosopher and mathematician; it is a fascinating journey about a brilliant woman caught up juggling many thing in her life, like her studies, her husband, her children, and then her lovers. 

An observation – the setting of this play requires that one be transported to the time of pre-Revolutionary-War France or a facsimile apropos.   The characters of this play, solidly wealthy, should represent that particular style, if not completely then symbolically.

Tania Mustafa’s costumes, beautiful in their own right, do not transport the audience into that time period in a realistic manner, and the costumes are not realistically symbolic.  Not a big problem, just on observation.

Tim Paul Vordtriede’s expansive and exquisite set design places us in the Chateau de Chirey.   His set enables the light, enhances the comedy, and draws out the drama in a thought-provoking way.

So, we are in the place, accompanied by the soft winds of a changing season, but not the exact time.

And time.
Life again?
But I’m dead.  I’m here.” – Emilie

This may be the reason that director Julianne Donelle used to place the play and the actors in another time and another costume period. It seems curiously possible.

Kim Reed, Sammi Smith

Yes, Emilie is dead.  Sad but true for the purposes set forth in Lauren Gunderson’s brilliant and unusual play. It is Emilie’s story, her versions of events as she calls out the title of the scenes to the fourth wall.  But then something unusual happens; the other characters call out the scenes as well. Ambiguous moments that are not clearly defined in the structure or the staging.

Something goes a little awry when Emilie (Sammi Smith) touches her emotional want. The electricity goes out, accompanied by a blast of noise familiar to a transformer blowing (wonderful Sound Design by Joseph V. Calarco), followed by the sound of a rewind, the players take their position again, and the moment begins anew.

(There is no chaste indecency as far as Emilie, the mother of three, is concerned.  She is so French and when the time is right, she chooses not to limit herself to just one man, rather she pursues her desires with a fervor of someone who has a voracious sexual appetite. Still, it is a momentary physical want, the grasp to the knee, that briefly interferes with her studies; and her reasons for F=mv². Tonight she defends her brief life. )

Satisfied, for the interrupted moment, Emilie moves on to the task at hand.  There is an openness in her being, a benign vigilance in the way she discards men for the requisition of truth, so she plays the scene over only to have the lights interrupt once again. Now in certitude, she employs a second version of herself, Soubrette (Kari Lee Cartwright), to take her stead.

Emilie can do this.  She is dead and this where she separates reality from want, to prove the formula, because, as she tells us, this is her story and her truth.    

Here is a short snippet of a scene, which I particularly liked, the scene at the opera filled with game playing and double entrendres; sadly this was one that managed to miss the intended mark on the attended night.  

“How was your éclair?” – Voltaire

“Much like you I’m afraid: too sweet, not quite filling. How was your tarte?” – Emilie

“Couldn’t stop myself.  Speaking of which, you’re not bored by my growing infatuation with you?” – Voltaire

If this isn’t suggestive, one is not sure what is.  The scene, as presented, had some interesting challenges. Emilie, married, ignored his words, his advances, and appeared not to be affected them at all, not blushed by the remarks, not eyeing him in a curious fashion, and so on.   And yet, this is the scene that establishes their relationship throughout, the keen fascination of words, a game that is played back and forth, two brilliant people each engaged in one-upmanship to achieve the advantage.

“Most of your operas by heart.  Though I thought the last one was a bit wordy.” – Emilie

“Now you tease.” – Voltaire

“If honesty is game-play.” – Emilie

“Everything’s a move, my dear.” – Voltaire

“A dear perhaps, but not yours yet.” – Emilie

“I heard a “yet”. – Voltaire

“And missed the “not”. – Emilie

Brilliant, but missed slightly in execution on this night that a few more performances should remedy.

In the end, Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight is a battle resolving love’s inconsistencies.  Following the lives of real historical figures though their unhallowed choices are a grand journey.  Love, treachery, and forgiveness are related in the way they move to grasp a truth. To observe the cicatrices of wounded lovers in this play is a great reason for embracing the theatre and this show.    

There is enough here to admire from Julianne Donnelle’s direction: the way the actors move flawlessly with props and the set pieces that move scenes naturally from one to another.  And then there are other times when one screams “conflict” for even the simplest of moments. And actors, who move from one side of the stage to another, need to find purpose. Small moments, one grants you, but moments that need resolution.

Sammi Smith hardly leaves the stage as Emilie.  Smith is charming and always has a radiant smile. She can add to her performance in terms of character, choices, and nuance. How does one play brilliant and voracious all in the same line?  Not an easy feat, but one that Smith can strive to add. Emilie’s ebullition to the poet is an excellent reason for not missing this theatrical event, as it is charming beyond belief. And although Smith is a brilliant actor, finding the emotional core to this character may require a few more performances.   

Marc Forget plays Voltaire and has some very amusing moments on stage. The long flowing hair of Voltaire is gone, and the poet characteristics do not quite manifest themselves in his character.  There are many things going on when he hastily leaves for the chateau of Cirey because death awaits him at every turn. We don’t see that side of Voltaire. That aside. Forget has some marvelous moments.

Kari Lee Cartwright plays Soubrette and other characters. She moves effortlessly across the stage and is surprising in character. She also does well as the neglected daughter, Gabrielle.

There is something tantalizing about the actor Kim Reed as Madam and other characters.  She is a chameleon of sorts, one who has a disquieting peculiarity that enhanced her ability to change into a variety of characters, effortlessly. Her craft is visibly noticeable and her skills are impeccable.

Nardeep Khurmi and Kari Lee Cartwright

Nardeep Khurmi is excellent as Gentlemen, the poet, when he tries to woe his female suitor. His need is great and his charm is powerful.  But as the General husband, he is stoic and lacks the specific character trait that turns that man into a general.  The scene with him speaking to his wife must have a stronger inner life.  He is a man, after all, who is giving his wife, the mother of his children, to another lover. We should see that inner conflict tearing him apart. Generals are not void of emotions.

There is an alternate cast of Kristyn Chalker, Bobby Coyne, Alejandro Bravo, Sarah Lyddan and Teri Gamble who did not perform the night I was there.  Please check the theatre listings for their performance.

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Brit Veltkamp – Stage Manager and Prop Design
Azra King-Abadi – Lighting Design
Carly Wielstein – Choreographer
John Klopping – Production Photographer
Ken Werther Publicity – Press Representative

Run! Run! And take someone who has a quest for learning to love.

 (323) 944-2165


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