Putting Women Back in the History Books

An interview with Revolutionists director Eleanor Holdridge

By Connie Yeager

Can you tell us about the evolution of The Revolutionists, and how you came to be involved with the play?

I was programming the season for the Catholic University Drama Department a few years ago and was looking for plays about the French Revolution to fit into a festival. All of a sudden I saw an announcement on Facebook that Lauren Gunderson, with whom I’d done I and You at Olney Theatre, was doing a workshop reading of a play about French Revolutionary badass women. I jumped at the chance to work with Lauren again and suggested that CUA present a workshop production in our season. So thrilling. Our students loved it, and I’ve been working on the play ever since. I am thrilled that it will find fruition in this production at Cincinnati Playhouse.

What do you admire about each of the women represented in the play?

I adore Marie’s wit and humor and surprisingly deep sense of honor and dedication — however silly, she is a mother to her lost children and her adopted country. I think Charlotte’s spark and sense of purpose and just plain badassitude are infectious, and her courage is remarkable. Marianne, a woman who has been deprived of her place in history, her name and her voice, is a tireless activist, striving for change and for equality for all. And Olympe’s humanity, her self-doubt and her sense of fighting to find herself in the roiling present of history-in-the-making make me strive to work a little harder, to be a little better even as she embraces her flaws.

What is the most fun about staging The Revolutionists? Most challenging?

I think the most fun in staging is to come up with all of the elements of the production. The tricky balance of realism, as these very human women strive to find a way to know each other and then make the world better, and the heightened theatricality demanded by the situation of the play itself. I want to find a way of staging and presenting the text that does justice to its humor, high style and deep pathos. That’s probably the same as the challenge. The challenge is the fun!

What does this play, set during the French Revolution, have to say to us today?

Women have been written out of the history books. Lauren Gunderson wants to write them back in. Too long have they been denied a voice. Too long have they been the footnotes of wives and mothers in history. Women were strong in the first wave of careful revolutionaries in the French Revolution. But as Robespierre and Marat solidified their places in the National Assembly, women were asked to take a back seat. In their various ways, Marie, Charlotte, Marianne and Olympe are in the middle of this seesaw of power. It happens to them. I hope that this play will empower women — especially young women — to take charge of their own narrative and make us see the complexities of the past.

Can you share with us a favorite LOL moment in The Revolutionists? A moment that breaks your heart?

I always laugh in rehearsal when Marie talks about America's Founding Fathers. I love the feistiness of Charlotte when she goes for blood. As Olympe and Marianne fight to confront the hard truths and then still go on, my heart breaks, even as I find hope.

Is there anything about the play that I haven’t asked that you want to emphasize?

It’s awesome.