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“Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life” at Curtis Theatre


From Left: Spike Pulice, Jon Sprik and Kalinda Gray (Photo by Francis Gacad)

Love or philosophy? Head or heart? Age-old questions posed by acclaimed writer Lauren Gunderson under the veil of 18th-century scientific genius Emilie du Châtelet.


By: MaryAnn DiPietro


Lauren Gunderson, a playwright renowned for her focus on revolutionary women, has once again delivered a compelling narrative with her play “Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight.” Gunderson's repertoire includes notable works such as “Silent Sky,” “The Half-Life of Marie Curie,” and most recently, “Justice, A New Musical.” The Curtis Theatre, familiar with Gunderson's powerful storytelling, staged her play “The Revolutionists” last year under the direction of Amanda Hallman. So it comes as no surprise that when Hallman encountered Gunderson's “Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight,” she found it “all-consuming” and felt compelled to bring it to the stage.


Amanda Hallman began her career as an actor. She honed her craft at Fullerton College, where she focused on both acting and directing. Her passion for directing became more pronounced during her studies at UC San Diego. Furthering her education, she earned an MFA from Loyola Marymount University, where she discovered a dual calling: directing theatre and teaching it. This dual passion has fostered a fruitful collaboration with the Curtis Theatre.


From Left: Rebecca Leeds, Jon Sprik, Tessa Grantahm, Kalinda Gray and Spike Pulice (Photo by Francis Gacad)

Curtis Theatre’s Artistic Director, Kris Kataoka, began his tenure in 2006, initially serving as a technician and technical director. Kataoka’s history as a music major in college and a professional musician after that, to eventually becoming a “theatre person,” led him to his current position. He jokes that he “...stuck around so long that they put him in charge of the place!” For this particular production of “Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight,” Kataoka returns to his roots, serving not only as the Artistic Director but also as the sound designer.


The play itself, “Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight,” centers on Emilie du Châtelet, a passionate, brilliant, and defiant genius in mathematics and physics who has been largely forgotten by history. Living in 18th-century France, Emilie was intimately connected with Voltaire, whose advocacy for freedom of speech and religion significantly influenced the French Revolution. Voltaire famously described du Châtelet as “a great man whose only fault was being a woman.” In this play, Emilie seizes the opportunity to challenge her own thoughts, beliefs, and life, offering a deeply introspective and philosophical narrative.


Structured with flashbacks, direct audience addresses, and dynamic interactions among a small cast of five, the play flows like a dance. Hallman describes it as, “…constantly moving. It’s like a dance. It flows and there is no separation of scenes. It is fluid. It moves like choreography without the production actually being a musical.” This fluidity allows the audience to be fully immersed in Emilie’s world, blurring the lines between past and present, reality and memory.

From Left: Tessa Grantham and Jon Sprik (Photo by Francis Gacad)

Hallman’s vision for the show draws from two profound inspirations: “One being the sky, the orbits of the planets, and the beauty of the stars and celestial mechanics that Emilie studied. And the other being the blank playing space of an empty theatre, which parallels the blank space of the universe, but then add in the stars and planets and all of the elements together and you have magic.” This dual inspiration not only informs the staging and visual elements of the production but also resonates with the thematic core of the play, celebrating Emilie's intellectual pursuits and her place in the cosmos.


Kataoka hopes the audience leaves “learning something new” as he has from every reading and rehearsal he has attended. The production’s educational impact is a testament to Gunderson’s meticulous research and nuanced writing, which brings Emilie’s story to life in a way that is both informative and deeply moving. Hallman, on the other hand, aspires for the audience to initially appreciate the “spectacle and the beauty of the show” but ultimately engage with the profound questions posed by the narrative. Echoing Emilie’s intellectual spirit, Hallman encourages the audience to ponder, “What does life truly mean and what does it mean to be meaningful?” She hopes viewers will form their own answers based on the play’s exploration.


MaryAnn DiPietro is an actor, singer, pianist, and writer.


“Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life”

Curtis Theatre

1 Civic Center Circle, Brea, CA, 92821

June 14-23, 2024

(714) 990-7722, www.curtistheatre.com


From Left: Kalinda Gray and Jon Sprik (Photo by Francis Gacad)

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