Theatre Review: “Emilie”

BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM | ENTERTAINMENT COLUMNIST

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars

Time and space. Love. Hope. Death. These are the elements that comprise the St. Norbert College Theatre Studies most recent production.

From April, 8-10 and 14-16, the Webb Theatre was home to Lauren Gunderson’s play, “Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight”, which tells the story of the early 18th century French mathematician and writer, Émilie du Châtelet. This remarkable woman single-handedly translated Isaac Newton’s “Principia Mathematica”, advocated radical ideas about Force Vive (Force=Mass x Velocity 2) and led a scandalous affair with the poet and scholar, Voltiare.

Yet, “Emilie” isn’t so much about the woman’s accomplishments, but about accomplishment in general. As the play opens, the title character is bathed in a celestial glow, and relates to the audience that she is dead. From there, she goes back through her life and attempts to discern which is more important: love or academic pursuit (philosophy). In doing so, she conveys what it means to quantify life into a single equation and realizes that the true discovery is not the solution but the process. The audience is struck with an emotional reaction to feminist struggles personified in the equally emotionally fraught life of Emilie. As the production’s director, Stephen Rupsch commented, “I wanted to do the play because it touched me in so many different ways, and I was just awestruck when I learned about this woman who contributed so much.”

I found “Emilie” to be deeply hilarious and tragic at the same time. On one hand, there is a sardonic wit that the characters play into, wherein the game of language is used to undercut another person with grace and charm. And on the other hand, there is a troubling overshadow that the characters are searching for answers in the wrong places, accentuated by Emilie’s death and self-introspection. That line between comedy and tragedy is hard balance, but I believe the actors did an excellent job portraying both, especially the two leads, Sarah Conard (’18) with her commanding presence, and Adam Mayrer (’18) with his vivacious physical movements.

Another thing that struck me was the how the production felt like a life-sized music box. The dialogue has a melodious rhythm to it that, as Emilie states, is “tight sentences delivered with confidence.” As for the blocking, it has a mechanical function that is once both graceful and repetitious, which highlights the oppressive structure that Emilie tries to break out from. Adding to this music box is the circular wooden platform in the middle of the stage, which serves as a podium for speeches, small skits and card playing, but is also reminiscent of the circular disc that ballerina figurines often gyrate on. But every now and then, the music box motif is broken, most vividly by scenographer April Beiswenger’s clever lighting.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed St. Norbert College’s production of “Emilie.” I’m sure there are a couple nitpicky things that I could point out, but in no way do they detract from the experience.

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