Reviewed by Betsyann Faiella

American Theatre’s list of plays produced in the 2019–20 season included 33 different productions of Lauren Gunderson’s works at theaters around the country. If Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight is a typical example of her oeuvre, I understand such staggering statistics.

This is an incredibly stylish work featuring the history of a real woman, though it’s owing to people like Lauren Gunderson that Emilie, La Marquise du Châtelet, is known, despite the fact that her work is, among other rather noteworthy accomplishments, the underpinning for Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Take that in for a minute. Then, she died after giving birth to a lover’s child at the age of 42, but not before she had completed the work regarded as her outstanding achievement: her translation into French, with her commentary, of Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica .

It would benefit anyone who is going to see this dynamic piece of theater to read about Emilie La Marquise, in advance, because it is a lot of style, and it occasionally obscures the substance of the woman. She was brilliant, after all, and most of us are not. Her history is stunning, her work is way out of my depth, and it is extremely present on stage: Force Vive, square THIS, Newton is a jerk, what the heck…and it is all so skillfully delivered. GO, but definitely read a bit beforehand. It could be difficult to follow otherwise.

The script, as one would surmise from the title, is from the POV of Emilie, La Marquise. She is dead, but very much alive on stage, explaining her marriage, her loves, and her work, seemingly the most important thing in her life. She had a very understanding hubby, who was content to have her as a friend and mother to their children while accepting her work and her relationships with other men, particularly Voltaire, French Enlightenment writer, historian, and philosopher, with whom she spent many years as her lover. I must admit, this aspect of her history left me feeling…un peu jalouse.

The talent in the show is top tier, every single one of the five players. The set is very elegant and multi-functional at the same time. The devices all work, in this humble reviewer’s opinion: Emilie’s “scorekeeping” with chalk; the lights out and thunderous sound when Emilie tries to actually kiss (or more) her lover (remember she is dead); the replacement of Emilie with Soubrette, so she can move the action forward. The book, sublime.

Amy Michelle as Emilie is perfection, dry and droll, as is Nigel Gore as Voltaire (so damn funny). The rest of the cast playing multiple roles is also wonderful. I loved Erika Vetter as Soubrette. Living up to her name, she was vivacious and adorable. Zaven Ovian as the husband and others  took on every part with skill and individuality.

Make no mistake, it’s heady stuff. I highly recommend it.

Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight

Written by Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Kathy Gail MacGowan

CAST: Bonnie Black (Madame), Nigel Gore (Voltaire), Amy Michelle (Emilie), Zaven Ovian (Gentleman), Erika Vetter (Soubrette).

Costume Design by Christina Beam, Lighting Design by Sasha Lysenko, and Scenic Design by Sarah White (The Berkshire Theatre Group).

Produced by Duende Productions.