Monthly Archive for: ‘January, 2017’

For the 3rd Production in its 87th Season, RVP Presents “Emilie” by Award-Winning Playwright Lauren Gundersen



The full title of this play is Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight. Our program tells us that Emilie du Châtelet was an 18th Century French philosopher, mathematician, physicist, and the toast of the Age of Enlightenment.  So why then is she not better known?

Robyn Grahn brilliantly resurrects this fascinating personality.  Brought back from the dead, Emilie is determined to answer the questions that haunted her dying moments on Earth.  Was I right?  Was I loved?  As she travels back in time to visit key moments in her scientific and emotional journey, the full extent of her remarkably amazing legacy is revealed in this smart and surprising portrait of a true genius.

It’s wonderful that playwright Lauren Gundersen is shining a light on Emilie du Châtelet. Her story is undeniably captivating as the daughter of a lesser Noble, and whose prodigious intellect was known as early in life as age 10 when she was brought to visit Sentenelle, the Head of the French Academy of Sciences, to discuss astronomy.  By 12 she was fluent in Latin, Greek, Italian and German, as well as her native French.  She used her talent in mathematics to become a successful gambler, a skill she plied in order to purchase the books she desired.  An arranged marriage brought her the title of Marquessa, but after the birth of her third child, she resumed her studies and entered into perhaps the most important relationship of her life – with the Philosopher Voltaire.

Gundersen takes an interesting approach to telling her tale when, as the play begins, we find Emilie at Center Stage in a state of shock after having been brought back to life.  She spends the rest of the play looking back at her career – explaining, justifying, rationalizing, and celebrating her accomplishments.

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As an Enlightenment era philosopher and scientist, Emilie resided somewhat in the shadow of French literary giant Voltaire (solidly interpreted by Catherine Luedtke).

Playwright Gundersen gives the audience plenty to consider both about La Marquessa du Châtelet’s intellectual contribution and about biographical details, including her marriage to a nobleman military officer and her mother (Tamar Cohn).  It is a little confusing for the audience, as both Robyn Grahn and Neiry Rojo (who plays Emilie’s daughter Soubrette) play the title character at various points.  Further adding to the confusion are the multiple roles performed by Shoresh Alaudini (a superbly talented young actor).


Director Patricia Miller takes a big step in demanding suspension of disbelief from her audience with her gender-bender casting of Catherine Luedtke as Voltaire.  Luedtke is a powerful actress with a strong voice and stage presence and excellent command of her character, but she’s entirely too womanly to be believed as a man. Tamar Cohn is an excellent actress who takes on multiple supporting roles, including a house maid in the Châtelet home, and she really shines in a cameo as Emilie’s domineering mother. Robyn Grahn steals the show with her impassioned interpretation of Emilie.

With so much scientific and mathematical jargon being bandied about, it would have been helpful if Director Miller and her actors concentrated on bringing out the human side of Gundersen’s characters.  Instead, a group of multiple castings – Neiry Rojo alternating as the young Emilie, her daughter, Voltaire’s coquettish niece (who eventually lures him away) and Tamar Cohn and Shoresh Alaudini performing a multitude of roles.  Likewise, Robyn Grahn’s Emilie and Catherine Luedtke (a woman playing this great man of letters) seem like they inhabit separate worlds.

Michael Berg provides gorgeous period costumes. Sasha Oaks’ wonderful set is masterfully constructed by Eugene DeChristopher and divided into 3 areas on the stage:  Stage Right is Emilie’s office, Stage Left is her apartment, and in Center Stage is where all the actors appear with the action – beautifully choreographed by Kavita Master with wonderful Sound Design by Billie Cox.  The very effective lighting is designed by Patrick Toebe.

… No surprise then that the whole enterprise by the Ross Valley Players (which is alive with physical activity) should be congratulated for giving this difficult play a good try.

Photography by Gregg LeBlanc 

Emilie, written by Lauren Gundersen and directed by Patricia Miller, began January 13 and will run through February 5, 2017.  Regular performances are scheduled for Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Fridays 8:00 p.m., Saturdays 8:00 p.m., and Sunday Matinees are at 2:00 p.m.  For tickets to Emilie, go online to or call 800/838-9555, and tickets for School Groups, call 415/456-9555 extension 3. All performances take place at The Barn, home of the Ross Valley Players, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.

Talk Backs with Director Patricia Miller and the Cast will follow the January 22nd performance and with Playwright Lauren Gundersen after the January 29th performance.

And coming up next will be Bus Stop by William Inge and directed by Christian Haines from March 3 to March 26, 2017.

Flora Lynn Isaacson