Tennessee Women’s Theater Project continues its ninth season of thought-provoking professional theater with the Tennessee premiere of Lauren Gunderson’s “Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight.” The production opens at the Z. Alexander Looby Theater on Friday (Feb. 19) and runs weekends through March 6.
The play is based on the real life story of Emilie du Châtelet, a scientific genius of 18th century France. Women of her era were considered too simple-minded to understand mathematics or physics, but Emilie produced work ranging from a groundbreaking paper on the nature of fire (the first by a woman ever published by the Paris Academy), to a celebrated and still-used translation and commentary on Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica. She was married to a nobleman of the court of Louis XV, and took a series of lovers, including the writer and philosopher Voltaire.
In the play, Emilie is returned from the afterlife to recount and defend her life. With an ensemble of four actors, she replays her interactions with family, colleagues and lovers, and examines her unanswered questions about science and philosophy, life and love.
Maryanna Clarke, TWTP Founder and Artistic Director, says she was drawn to the play on first reading. “Emilie is a remarkable woman, and Lauren Gunderson has done a remarkable job of capturing her intellect, her passions, her humor and her intense appetite to understand the world,” she says. “I really love its combination of clarity and reality-bending magic.”
In an online essay, Gunderson explains why Emilie’s story is important: “Emilie tells us that human beings are always human beings. And love and hard work and hope and heartbreak look the same now as they did 300 years ago. That women have always had to prove themselves against harsher critics. That love is never easy. That brilliance is always sexy.”
Using language that is easily accessible to today’s audiences the playwright evokes the corseted world of upper-class women in the time of Louis XV. We see Emilie’s eager desire for both scientific knowledge and unconventional romance. And, we share in her urgent need to reconcile her pursuit of love and learning.
The cast features Evelyn O’Neal Brush as Emilie and Obadiah Ewing-Roush as Voltaire; an ensemble of Players, comprised of Britt Byrd (Soubrette), Kaul Bluestone (Madam) and Evan Taylor Williams (Gentleman) assumes a variety of supporting roles.
The production is supported by grants from the Metro Nashville Arts Commission and the Tennessee Arts Commission. The corporate production sponsor is HCA TriStar Health.
The Looby Theater is located at 2301 Rosa L. Parks Blvd. Performances are Feb. 19, 20, 25, 26, 27 and March 3, 4, 5 at 7:30 p.m. as well as Feb. 21, 28 and March 6 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $10 to $15, with the first Thursday show designated as Pay What You Make an Hour Night, and can be purchased online by clicking here. For more information call (615) 681-7220 or visit www.twtp.org. NOTE: Because of adult situations and language, this production is not recommended for young children.
*Photos of Evelyn O’Neal Brush as Emilie by M. Clarke courtesy Tennessee Women’s Theater Project.