Thursday, January 27, 2011

ArtsWest comes up with the right formula with Emilie

Voltaire (Nick DeSantis) sneaks
a peck from Emilie (Kate Witt)
during Emilie by Lauren
Gunderson, running through
Feb. 20 at ArtsWest. Photo:
Michael Brunk, ArtsWest.
After the Seattle opening of Emilie Wednesday evening playwright Lauren Gunderson enthused that it was like meeting her own characters for the first time, such was her enthusiasm for the production created by director Susanna Wilson and cast at ArtsWest in West Seattle.

Emilie is the story of Emilie du Ch√Ętelet, early 18th century French mathematician and physicist who came up with the notion, "force vive", that kinetic energy was proportional not to the velocity of an object, as believed by Newton, but to the square of its velocity. She also translated, and upgraded, Newton's Principia Mathematica into French, and that translation is still the standard in the language today.

If that sounds like a boring premise for a play, well, you're wrong. Plus it's also about battles between head and heart, of women in science, and a dandy verbal duel between Emilie, played by Kate Witt, and her lover, the pompous horse's ass and usually wrong Voltaire (Nick DeSantis).

Witt's Emilie is reincarnated to tell her life story, in which young Emilie is played by the talented and fetching Sara Coates. (I expect Voltaire may have written that if Sara Coates didn't exist we would have to invent her. But I digress.) Jason Marr is wonderful as a number of men, including Emilie's husband, a future lover, and Sir Isaac Newton. Jody McCoy plays a variety of women, including Emilie's ever-so-proper mother.

A randy Voltaire (Nick DeSantis)
gets it on with living Emilie (Sara
Coates), but it's narrator Emilie
(Kate Witt) who really makes the
sparks fly. Photo: Michael Brunk,
Coates gets the kissing scenes because narrator/Emilie Witt gets zapped with electricity and the lights go out if she actually comes into contact with the figures from her past. It underscores the isolation she feels as she toils away in a scientific world that very much belongs to the men.

Witt is fabulous and owns the stage, which is literally her blackboard. Director Wilson and designer Dan Schuy came up with a set that is mostly chalkboard paint, and Emilie scribbles her formulae and diagrams all over the place, as well as her running tally of the good points of love and philosophy. Emilie, a larger-than-life force, wins at everything, including cards. Though for a while there she's not so sure she'll win at love.

The end was surprisingly moving. Emilie gets pregnant at 42, and it becomes a race between the very probably deadly childbirth and finishing her translation of Newton.

In an interesting touch, Wilson has Witt remain on stage during the intermission, continuing her studies and making notes and diagrams on the chalkboards. Most of the opening-night audience missed it, but I missed intermission; it was too interesting to watch!

Emilie has crackling dialog and vivid characters, and it's a fabulous story. Don't miss it. It runs at ArtsWest through Feb. 20.

1 comment:

harold hollingsworth said...

it was a great play, wonderful recommendation!