In the hands and mouths of San Francisco playwright Lauren Gunderson (writer of 2015’s “Silent Sky”), Theatre Horizon guest director Kathryn MacMillan and four of Philadelphia’s wiliest actresses (Jaylene Clark Owens, Claire Inie-Richards, Jessica Bedford and Charlotte Northeast) will get a little closer to 1789-era Paris this month with “The Revolutionists.”
According to Gunderson’s legend, “four badass women” wriggle their witty way through wry rebel comic moments. An assassin, a spy, an author and Marie Antoinette make merry in a burning, warring Paris with “liberté, égalité and sororité” at the forefront.
Acting and writing are two parts of the show’s equation at Theatre Horizon. Its third crucial element is the look of the play — creating decadently opulent 18th-century Paris at the time of liberation. Two LGBT-identifying artists, lighting-director Lily Fossner and set-designer Brian Dudekiewicz, form that element. They use shadow, fog and angles of abstraction to create the fanciful feuding France of another century.
Fossner and Dudekiewicz — both with resumes filled with bigger shows for larger companies and smaller plays in intimate confines — noted that, more often than not, their initial encounter with any space comes outside of meeting the producers or directors.
“My initial exposure is usually through the phone or online and happens after Brian’s involvement, responding to a room filled with collaborators,” said Fossner, who has lit up stages locally for companies such as Act II, The Lantern and 1812 Productions. “From there, it’s important that I am working with people who are open and generous and interested in engaging with one another as well as the material.”
Dudekiewicz, a Barrymore Award-nominated designer for his past creations with Theatre Horizon such as “In the Blood,” “A New Brain,” “Fully Committed” and “Black Nativity,” agreed with Fossner and furthered those notions with the need for conversations.
“We need to discuss everything that excites us before starting any physical design,” Dudekiewicz said. “I absorb everything discussed to create the world of a play — this play or any play.”
For “The Revolutionists,” Fossner and Dudekiewicz said that all initial conversations had to focus on context — not just the physical location, but rather the comic and emotional tenor and tone.
“We had to ascertain what is happening to these four women and [create] a space that responds to how we feel about these ladies, about their struggle and their power,” Dudekiewicz said. “We have to create a world for them where they can be who they want to be. We want to portray the weight and the danger that surround these four characters.”
Fossner said her cues as a lighting boss come from Gunderson’s script and its elements of danger.
“We’re illustrating scenes where women go to — spoiler alert — the guillotine. So there’s an abstraction to our staging or sound and our lighting. That is an interesting challenge.”
Both Dudekiewicz and Fossner said Theatre Horizon is run by a brilliant batch of women artists and that “The Revolutionists” follows a femme-forward creation.
“There’s only one man on staff and there’s me doing this show and beyond that is women running this place — all of which are apt for this play,” Dudekiewicz said. “My experience here is that they’re always excited to create engaging art that doesn’t fit into a single mold. What is beautiful and poetic is that these women in this play speak their mind. Very much like what is happening at this moment, women refuse to be prostituted. If that means that certain men go to jail because of their crimes or that other men don’t get Oscar nominations, then so be it.”
Fossner finds the world of Theatre Horizon and The Revolutionists an empowering and rare experience.
“This gives me full permission to make the sort of work I crave to make,” he said.
And at a time when #MeToo is a living, breathing, forward-moving organism, Theatre Horizon is doing more than staging a play: It’s having a moment.
“There are four characters here that are given voice to their anger,” said Fossner.
“Their voice is given legitimacy — an unapologetic voice.”
“The Revolutionists” will play through Feb. 25 at Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb St., Norristown. For more information or tickets, visit www.theatrehorizon.org.
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