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Sarah White

Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight

April 14, 2023

Gunderson uses two actors to play Emilie and writer Voltaire who was her mentor, companion and lover, and then three actors to play everyone else, from Emilie’s mother, husband and daughter, to servants and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton and poet Jean-Francois de Saint-Lambert. As they do not change their costumes, we are never entirely certain who they are when they reappear. Throughout the play Emilie is working on the physics formula F=mv2 (known as force vive) which she attributes to German mathematician and thinker Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Unfortunately, this math will be foreign to most theatergoers who have not studied physics. Emilie narrates and addresses the audience, then turns back and interacts with the other characters on stage. She also keeps score in chalk on the walls as whether Love or Philosophy is in the ascendance. The play, cast as a flashback, has very short scenes so that a great deal passes in a short time. While the first act seems to be bits and pieces, the second act settles down into a more dramatic confrontation between Emilie and Voltaire and becomes more involving. MacGowan never finds the right tone to accomplish all of this. [more]