Texas Woman’s University’s Redbud Theatre presented Lauren Gunderson’s play, “Emilie La Marquise de Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight,” Saturday. Directed by Dr. Patrick Bynane and running through Feb. 17, the Valentine’s production explored the many faces of love, loss and mindful pursuits through one woman’s post-mortem search for meaning. Bynane’s production brought to modern audiences the history of a woman that, even by today’s standards, is a tour de force, asking viewers to reflect on what makes a life.
Lauren Jordan, a junior theater major, played the ghost of Emilie La Marquise de Chatelet, an 18th century physicist, translator of Newton and Voltaire’s lover, who returns from the grave to try to solve the unsolvable equation that plagues so many: is it better to pursue the passions of the heart or of the mind?
Jordan brought Emilie to life both in the script and on the stage. With the presence and earnest wit reminiscent of a young Rachel Brosnahan, Jordan commanded attention, capturing the nervous energy of a mind that never sleeps.
Junior theater major Walker Delk, as Voltaire, called forward the whimsical sensibilities of a poet spoiled by admiration and infatuated with the strength of Emilie. Though Voltaire’s ego was often challenged by Emilie’s unapologetic brilliance, the audience is asked to forgive his sometimes-disappointing and childish behavior through Emilie, who recognizes his flawed nature as a product of the appetites that drive his love.
Separated time and again by outside passions – both romantic and philosophical – the pair retain a bond of care and acceptance far beyond the yearning of the flesh. Just as Emilie’s work leaves a legacy carried on by generations, so too does the love she and Voltaire shared reverberate through the ages, reminding us that “a heart squared makes a life.”
Apart from Jordan and Delk, the remaining three-actor ensemble took on many roles, displaying an impressive versatility.
Robert Bryce Neel, a junior theater major, played Emilie’s father, husband and the last lover of her life, a soldier-poet who impregnates her with the child that would mean her end, as she dies shortly after giving birth.
Jordan Adia James, a first year theater major, took on the roles of Emilie’s mother, Voltaire’s maid and a shallow courtier.
Katherine Hogan, a junior theater major, played Emilie’s daughter, Voltaire’s niece-lover and the young Emilie herself, reenacting scenes of the past while Emilie’s ghost narrates.
“I thought they did great [regarding casting],” senior Marissa Hernandez said of Saturday’s evening performance. “I think it’s difficult to play multiple roles, and I was really impressed with the way they were able to execute it so well.”
Given the small space and delightfully simple props, the intimacy of the production was palpable.
“If you go to an actual theater, it’s very separated, but [with college theater], it feels like you’re actually in the play instead of just watching it,” junior nursing major Devona Ezarraga said.
Paired with a cast that feels believably sober in its craft, the scuffed shoes and stiff fabrics that hint at a shrinking theater budget were entirely forgiven by intermission. Though the costumes on each side of the stage seemed a little out of place and the props were noticeably worn from the front row, the set and lighting largely complemented the scenes. Taken together, the elements of Saturday’s performance, though hardly exceptional, are completely overshadowed by the powerful performances of the actors.
In the end, Emilie accepts that no life ends without questions left unanswered, but that makes it no less complete. Taking comfort in her legacy and the richness of her experiences, Emilie finds meaning in the most remarkable concept of all: acceptance of the self as truth.
Bynane’s “Emilie” perfectly captured the charm and bravery of Gunderson’s masterpiece, encapsulating the battle for heart and mind that is both universal yet often, uniquely female. In celebrating the beautiful ambiguity of existence, Bynane’s Valentine’s production leaves audiences with an electric desire for a life lived fully.