Voltaire’s poetry, Sir Isaac Newton’s laws and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz’s relational theory are separately noted in the textbooks. But what the books omit is the woman who connected their dots: Emilie, who defended her historical role at Threshold Theatre on Saturday.
"Emilie, La Marquise du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight" was written by Lauren Gunderson in 2009. The five-person play, mounted by South of Broadway Theatre Company last season and directed by J.C. Conway, returns for this year's Piccolo Spoleto Festival.
Gabrielle Emilie le Tonnelier de Breteuil was born in Paris in 1706. She was a woman before her time, and spent her days reading books rather than standing up straight, fluffing her hair or closing her mouth. The character is played by Charleston actor Kristen Kos who commanded the stage from the start. Kos had gusto in her voice that never faded and she spoke elegantly.
The stage is set simply with two chalk boards labeled philosophy and love, and desks that come and go. Emilie keeps a tally of each life event. Through three lovers, a lot of math and one epiphany, Emilie's calculations add up to 12 on each board.
With the cosmos on her side, Emilie reevaluates her life in an attempt to finish the work she derived from Newton. Due to her emotional state, Emilie cannot embrace others, and so Soubrette (Marissa Rocco) stands in to dance, kiss and interact on her behalf. At times, the role switching seemed confusing and detracted from the recollection scene.
Just as Emilie values knowledge above an “easy life” (wifehood), the same goes for men. She marries Marquis Florent-Claude du Chastellet (John Bryan) and engages with Voltaire (Paul O’Brien) in an intellectual relationship that turns into an affair.
Each discovery Emilie makes is challenged by the two men. O'Brien played Voltaire with strength and feeling. Bryan's Marquis was lackluster and barely audible when arguing about philosophical matters.
Emilie's and Voltaire’s correspondence was most genuine, but there were moments of levity from Bryan and Susie Hallatt (Madam) which provided relief from Emilie's intensity.
Kos’ emotional, powerful performance fully engaged the audience as she defended her life and argued for a second chance at recognition. She convinced.
You can see this performance again on June 8 at 7 p.m.; June 9 at 9 p.m.; and June 10 at 3 p.m. at 84 Society St.