A brilliant and passionate 18th century mathematician and scientist defends her unfairly overlooked life in “Emilie: La Marquise Du Chatelet Defends Her Life Tonight” at the Open Book Theatre Company.
The play, written by Lauren Gunderson, runs 8 p.m. Jan. 12, 13, 19, 20, 26 and 27, and Feb. 1 to 3, and 2 p.m. Jan. 21 and 28 at the theater, 1621 West Road in Trenton.
Directed by Sarah Hawkins Moan of Hazel Park, the cast includes Krista Schafer Ewbank of Grosse Ile Township as Emilie and Jonathan Davidson of Detroit as Voltaire. Also in the cast, playing multiple roles, are Caitlin Morrison of Romeo, Patrick Loos of Detroit, Cynthia Szczesny of Grosse Ile Township and Matthew Wallace of Royal Oak.
Ewbank, who is also the OBTC artistic director, said she was drawn to the play by the way its characters address the audience directly, and by its main character, a woman “fighting to be heard.”
“Emilie was a brilliant individual whose contributions to science have been dismissed since she was alive,” Ewbank said. “Historical Emilie and theatrical Emilie are fighting to be heard. This play, a layered story about a fascinating individual, is inspiring and empowering.”
Ewbank said people will enjoy learning of her contributions to math and science, while women, who still struggle to be acknowledged and accepted in many academic fields, will relate to her passion to be taken seriously.
“For Emilie it’s all about the inquiry,” she said. “At one point she says, ‘Asking tricky questions is what I do best.’ This play will appeal to anyone who appreciates stories about our struggle to find meaning and connection in our lives, love, and our desire to leave a lasting legacy.”
Ewbank said she is trying gain a basic understanding of physics, which was one of Emilie’s passions.
“When I say the lines about mass and velocity and orbits and equations it can’t just be words,” she said. “It excited Emilie, and it needs to excite me, too.”
How Emilie would have dressed and acted to comply with societal expectations of the nobility are also fascinating to Ewbank.
“I’m looking at paintings, clothing, hairstyles, and the way they sat, stood,” she said. “In a period piece like this, costumes are a huge element of the character, and Cheryl (Zemke, costume designer) is giving all of us some delightful pieces to work with.”
Zemke said style was important in France in the time period, with the monarch dictating the norms for nobility. Since Emilie’s father worked for King Louis XIV at Versailles, she did some quick historical research into the period to make costumes that were also adaptable to quick changes and the limited budgets of a regional theatre.
“I have used curtains for long skirts,” she said. “You get a lot of yardage for a cheaper price than purchasing fabrics by the yard.”
After borrowing from other theaters, Zemke said she designed some of the more difficult costume components. She said while she has enjoyed costuming Emilie, she gives the costumes of each character personalized touches to add to their character’s statement.
“A broach on a jacket, a feather in a hat or even a specific color might make you feel a certain way about a character,” she said. “This is my personal trademark, to help accentuate the characters portrayed.”
The men’s costumes include a French military tri-cornered hat, and jackets and vests with lace and ruffled neckties.
Moan said the costumes, lighting and sound are fun theatrical elements that wouldn’t fit into conventional shows.
“This show exists in a world of fantastic realism,” she said. “It’s kind of a dream to be working in a space that has the ability to be transformed completely with each show.”
Moan said she is also pleased to be part of a season directed by women.
“I think in this day and age it is important to tell stories about the women in history who were influential but overshadowed by their male counterparts,” she said. “Telling these stories empowers women of all ages, but especially young girls who are just beginning to discover what they like and who they want to be in a world that unfortunately still creates barriers to female success.”
Moan said it is important to give girls strong, smart women role models to inspire them.
“I’m excited to bring Emilie’s story to life because she was a brilliant mathematician and scientist in an age where women were not expected to do more than marry well and produce children,” she said. “We get to see a woman living her life fearlessly, pursuing the things she feels passionate about and ultimately contributing to modern science.”
Moan said she also enjoys plays in which historical figures cross paths.
“Emilie Du Chatelet as was ahead of her time socially and in her field of study,” she said. “Emilie’s relationship with Voltaire is especially juicy because it was about the romance and the meeting of two like minds, not just about the work. I’m excited to explore how these two nurtured, frustrated and pushed each other to their individual success.”
Tickets are $30 opening night and $20 for the remaining shows, with a $5 discount for seniors and students. To order, or for more information, call 734-288-7753 or go to openbooktheatrecompany.net.
DEARBORN, WYANDOTTE GIRLS IN MOT’s ‘A WINTER FANTASY’
Two local girls, Natalie Nikolajevs of Dearborn and Mia Martin of Wyandotte, will perform in the Michigan Opera Theatre Children’s Chorus concert, “A Winter Fantasy” at 3 p.m. Dec. 17 at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway, Detroit.
The concert, a fundraiser, marks the children’s chorus 10th anniversary, and features a silent auction and performances by chorus alumni.
Begun in 2007 by Suzanne Acton, the MOTCC, the first of it kind in the metropolitan Detroit area, has offered groundbreaking opportunities and choral and theatrical training for children ages 8 to 16 in both children’s operas and in the mainstage productions. Youth are selected through an open audition process.
Tickets are $50 for box seats, $30 for adults, $15 for children 5 to 17, and free for children 4 and younger. To order, go to michiganopera.org/events/a-winter-fantasy. For more information, call 313-680-6682 or go to motcc.org.