Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight. It was by Lauren Gunderson, and it was directed by Bryan Wakefield. It was about a a woman named Emilie (Laura Sturm) and she was dead. And she came back to reflect on her life and eventually see what she needed to understand about her life's work. She was a feminist scientific writer in the 1700s. She had a very fascinating but too short life. I think this is a super intriguing, fun, and sad play. It explores lots of different types of partnerships and it really makes you think about what life was like for women in this time period.
Emilie had a lot of romantic relationships. She switched back and forth between lovers throughout the show and it was really interesting to see the relationship she had with each one of them. Her husband (John Arthur Lewis) she didn't necessarily have a very romantic relationship with. They had an understanding and a respect for each other. And it was really bittersweet when she talked about him because they never had a lustful relationship, like she did with the rest of the people she loved. But she did still love him. He respected her feminist, scientific, and romantic pursuits. I am slightly worried that the husband wasn't always pursuing his own happiness. He and his wife seemed to have an understanding that they could both do what they wanted, but we don't really know anything about the husband's life. Voltaire (Joel Moses) was the lustful relationship she found. It was also an intellectual relationship. He also respected her work, but only to a point. He ends up betraying her by dissing her work by writing an article, which really hurts their romantic and intellectual relationships. He is selfish in their relationship, but that doesn't mean that they don't love each other. Her final relationship is very short because of her death. But the person I think she connected most with and was most equal with was a poet, Jean-François. They write together, like she and Voltaire did, and he really admires her. I think all these men are very important to her and shape her life in very different ways. You see that how she approaches her relationships with men changes over her lifetime. At first, she doesn't have a choice, but she still has a connection with her husband. Then she meets Voltaire who she loves because of lust and because they both want knowledge to rule over everything. But Voltaire literally stalks her until she gives in. She chooses Jean-François because she sees that he understands her and admires her and she sees potential in his writing. That doesn't mean that their relationship has nothing to do with sex, but she pursues him, which shows us she is making a choice and she has learned who she is and what she wants. Over the course of the play, she is helpless, then lustful, and then all she wants is to be happy. And then she dies.
The whole show seemed very performative until the moving moments, which then felt very real. I think that was a really perfect contrast because it really made it all the more moving to see these characters as real people (because they are historical characters after all) after for much of the play seeing them as self-conscious characters. Except for Emilie, the other characters seemed to understand that they were fake, or visions in Emilie's mind. There was a scene where Emilie was talking to her daughter, who is played by an ensemble member called Soubrette (Sara Copeland), who was about to marry a prince. She really didn't want to marry the prince because she wanted to live her own life like her mother. And because the Soubrette also plays young Emilie, it is more moving because Emilie sees herself in her daughter. The relationship felt very real in the scene, even though the Soubrette as a self-conscious character is supposed to call attention to the non-realistic parts of the show. In the moment, though, both actors make you believe it is a real mother-daughter relationship that you care about.
People who would like this show are people who like the contrast between theatrical and realistic storytelling, fascinating biography, and shutting down Voltaire. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is a beautiful, moving, and hilarious show. I laughed; I cried. It was altogether a great show.
Photos: Matthew C. Yee