Emilie La Marquise Du Châtelet died at age 46 in childbirth after an affair with her young lover. She lived in 18th century Paris and was born into to a privileged family, had three older children, and was a mathematical genius. But her life’s work was unfinished so she claimed, and even after she died she wanted desperately to come back among the living to see how the results of her experiments, loves and her life worked out or not.
All of my loving-and all of my knowing…What maters, what lasts. If lasting even mattes. What’s the point”? Tonight I may finally know and finally rest.
In her play Emilie La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight, now having a fine airing at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad through March 6th, playwrite Lauren Gunderson and director Kristianne Kurner bring to life the story of Emilie as told by herself. The works, life and times of this little known genius whose mission on this night to defend her life is, in a metaphorical sense, right on target.
Her experiments were groundbreaking, again particularly for a woman. One of her greatest accomplishment was her reinterpretation of Sir Isaac Newton’s concept of force. ‘Today this reinterpretation is a universally accepted expansion of Newton’s original concept’. She translated his great Principia from Latin and wrote the first popular textbook on physics. She did all this while carrying on a rocky 16 year relationship with Voltaire, who was also her collaborator and partner in many other social affairs.
I don’t claim to understand any of her works in physics. Not even remotely. (‘There are things called living and things called dead that exist as people. Hearts and the squaring of hearts’. Then there are things called dead that exist as Force and the squaring of force. Motion, Mass. Squared: F=mv squared or living force; F=mv now its dead) Hit me over the head and call me physics brain dead. I do however understand affairs of the heart. (More on that later)
I also know top -notch acting. JoAnne Glover’s sterling portrayal of Emilie defending herself and explaining her theories had me intrigued, engaged and rather captivated. She is on the stage from beginning to end and even during intermission. Her portrayal of Emilie is light and intense, smart and coquettish and wonderfully authentic. Spending an afternoon with her was a joy.
Gunderson’s play reads like a travelogue taking us back in time to relive life with Emilie is our tour guide. The play moves forward in short snippets. Her struggles in a man’s world and her successes with men, family and science are at the heart of this exercise. After she briefly shares with us what she wants us to know about herself, her experiments, writings and affairs we are given an inside look into her world and how it all goes down.
It is during these intervals that we meet up with her mother Madam (Dagmar Krause Fields as always is on target), her stand in as a younger woman/and daughter, Soubrette (Christina L. Flynn is a lovely and playful young Emilie), Emilie’s husband/ gentleman and others (Zackary Bonin is a bit staid) and of course Voltaire or “V” (Skyler Sullivan is quite beautiful, effective and affected).
It is also in these intervals that we see the fine technical work of director Kristianne Kurner (who directs with a sure hand) in her authentic looking set design especially the giant chalk board we see with Emilie’s formulas in the background, and Elisa Benzoni’s beautiful period costumes, Chris Renda’s lighting and Bill Bradbury’s sound design. It all comes together perfectly.
One little trifle of information not mentioned earlier is that when Emilie tries to make physical contact with those she loves sparks fly causing a dangerous situation for the living, ergo the stand in for her younger self, lover, etc. When she is at arms length, all is right with the world but it does create a bit of a problem for her when speaking of challenges of the heart. Let’s not forget that her initial introduction about ‘all of her loving and all of her knowing’. She had some serious love affairs but in recounting them she becomes an outsider looking in at them not experiencing them
Those passions and feelings created by her stand- in never actually resonate back to Emilie (even tough they are done well) because of her commitment to ‘tell it like it was’. Her story is so matter of fact- scientific if you will- that some of the sympathy and understanding of her plight one might have felt for her just isn’t there. In that sense she truly is otherworldly. Kudos to Ms. Glover for her creation. It worked for this reviewer.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through March 6th
Organization: New Village Arts Theatre
Production Type: Drama
Where: 2787 State Street, Carlsbad, CA.
Ticket Prices: $32.00-$35.00