Sonorous Road Repertory Company’s production of Émilie La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight by Lauren Gunderson, is a delightfully enlightening view of important early physicist, polemicist, mathematician, and — most probably what we today would call a feminist — Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet (1706-49). A married upper-crust polymath who carried on a long-term relationship with François-Marie Arouet, better known by his nom de plume, Voltaire. Émilie translated Sir Isaac Newton’s magnum opus The Mathematical Principles of Physics, into French, clarifying and correcting important Newtonian missteps, as well as making a huge name for her own contributions to scientific understanding.
Five flawless performers, under the direction of Egla Birmingham Hassan bring to life an educational, humorous, deeply thought-provoking and sensuous representation of the world of early 18th century intellectual life. The play is performed on a stark set, designed by Nicholas Lease, consisting of a few pieces of period furniture, and bright white costumes suggesting the period, contrasted with costume designer Rachel McKay’s colorful garb for Émilie.
Émilie narrates the story, sometimes simply hosting and sometimes being “herself,” interacting with the other actors, most notably, of course, with M. Voltaire, whom she usually refers to as simply “V.” Michelle Murray Wells handles these transitions beautifully, including also those times when she opens her head to us and reveals her immediate thoughts.
Sprightly and chipper, and ferocious in her anger, Wells defines Émilie as sensuous as she is brilliant. Her character’s involvement in the true nature of fire — substance or energy — is clear and presented academically. This is a strong and touching performance.
Sterling Hurst also does excellent work as Voltaire. Hurst is a comer in Hollywood, doing TV performances in popular shows and national TV commercials, including one for an opioid addiction remedy. Hurst’s haughty airs and snotty self-confidence as France’s infamous intellectual bring us a Voltaire who easily would be the attacker of the various churches and establishments of the wealthy and powerful, as well as demander of equal rights for all. He also displays the facility to glide from pompous poseur to galvanized activist for the causes that he holds dear, and also to devoted, passionate lover.
Émilie’s alter-ego (“Soubrette,” in the program) is played by Samantha A. Matthews. Matthews is superb as the side of Émilie that is not the physicist/mathematician, but rather the coy, flirtatious and frivolous vamp.
A.C. Donohue does fine work as she plays Madam (Émilie’s mother) and other roles. Justin Johnson ably takes on several roles, as well, including Émilie’s husband, Marquis Florent du Châtelet, who also carries the rank of colonel in King Louis XV’s army.
Students and teachers (especially STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Math] teachers) may already know of Émilie Marquise du Châtelet, but many of the rest of us may never have heard of her. In either case, her contribution to Newtonian Physics made awareness of him come much sooner than it might have. To peer into the events that brought that about is both educational and exciting. Go see Émilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight at Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in Raleigh, NC.
SECOND OPINION: March 30th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9352; March 27th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/events/emilie/; March 26th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW News Desk preview: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/Sonorous-Road-Theatre-Presents-EMILIE-LA-MARQUISE-DU-CHATELET-DEFENDS-HER-LIFE-TONIGHT-20190326; and March 24th Cary, NC RDU on Stage interview with playwright Lauren Gunderson, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/2019/03/24/transcript-lauren-gunderson-on-science-and-storytelling/ and March 24th podcast audio interview with playwright Lauren Gunderson, conducted by Lauren Van Hemert: https://rduonstage.com/podcast/podcast-ep-13-science-and-storytelling-with-playwright-lauren-gunderson-and-director-egla-hassan/. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the March 31st Triangle Review review by Pamela Vesper and Kurt Benrud, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2019/03/michelle-wells-and-sterling-hurst-sparkle-in-emmilie-la-marquise-du-chtelet-defends-her-life-tonight/.)
Sonorous Road Repertory Company presents ÉMILIE: LA MARQUISE DU CHÂTELET DEFENDS HER LIFE TONIGHT at 3 p.m. March 31, 8 p.m. April 5 and 6, 3 p.m. April 7, 8 p.m. April 8 Industry Night, 8 p.m. April 11-13, and 3 p.m. April 14 at the Sonorous Road Theatre & Film Studio in The Royal Bakery Building, 3801 Hillsborough St., Suite 113, Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $16-$20 ($10-$16 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), including fees.
BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or https://sonorousroadrep.org/tickets.
INFORMATION: 919-803-3798 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SHOW: https://sonorousroadrep.org/emilie and https://www.facebook.com/events/833072213693641/.
2019 SEASON: https://sonorousroadrep.org/shows.
VENUE: https://www.sonorousroad.com/, https://www.facebook.com/sonorousroad/, and https://twitter.com/sonorousroad.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: Sonorous Road Rep cautions, “Due to mature themes [this show is] recommended for ages 14 and up.”
Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, marquise du Châtelet (French writer, physicist, mathematician, and philosopher, 1706-49): http://www.britannica.com/biography/Gabrielle-Emilie-Le-Tonnelier-de-Breteuil-Marquise-du-Chatelet (Encyclopædia Britannica), http://projectvox.org/du-chatelet-1706-1749/ (Project Vox), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89milie_du_Ch%C3%A2telet (Wikipedia).
Émilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight (2009 Costa Mesa, CA dramatic comedy): http://www.samuelfrench.com/p/857/emilie-la-marquise-du-ch%C3%A2telet-defends-her-life-tonight (Samuel French, Inc.), https://sites.google.com/site/emiliedefendsherlifetonight/ (fan site), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89milie_du_Ch%C3%A2telet#Legacy (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Lauren Gunderson (Atlanta-born San Francisco playwright and screenwriter): http://laurengunderson.com/ (official website), http://laurengunderson.com/category/blog/ (her blog), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/27155 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), https://www.imdb.com/name/nm4454013/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/LaurenMGunderson (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/LalaTellsAStory (Twitter page), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Gunderson (Wikipedia).
Egla Birmingham Hassan (Flower Mound, TX director): https://www.facebook.com/egla.hassan (Facebook page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on Amazon.com. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori previously reviewed theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.