Emilie’s Voltaire @ Beckett Theatre, New York

cast list
Amy Lynn Stewart, Michael Medeiros

directed by
Kevin Confoy

Arthur Girons new play concerns the 16-year affair of Voltaire and his aristocratic lover, Emilie Marquise Du Chatelet-Laumont, a woman with a gifted scientific mind.

Michael Medeiros (stepping in to the role at short notice) plays Volatire, the prolific and heretical French writer who rebelled against his bourgeois training as a lawyer.

Amy Lynn Stewart plays Emilie, an aristocrat who rebelled against the norms of the time to study, experiment and publish scientific texts.
The Beckett on Theatre Row, with its intimate size and excellent acoustics, is the perfect venue for this show. The play’s first act is a beautiful pas de deux of dialogue, eloquently performed by the cast.

Both actors capably inhabit their characters’ passions: Voltaire’s love of the written word and rebellion against life’s rules and Emilie’s love of knowledge and her hunger for someone to nurture her mind. In the first act, the repartee between them is witty and danger drives their intellectual and physical lust.

This first act covers the events of just one night, but is nonetheless packed with emotion, the dialogue rattling along. The second act jumps forward 10 years and covers a period of six years during which their relationship comes to an end. First the end of lust, then the end of intimacy and finally the sadness of realizing that love is not enough.

Giron seems to assume that the audience knows that things were very good between them duing the intervening decade, but I felt robbed of the best of their relationship. Without seeing those happy, shared moments, their break up and all the subsequent anguish came off as overheated.

The dialogue also sometimes struck a discordant note with me. In the first act, and in the latter half of the second act, the dialogue is swift and engaging; my mind grew accustomed to the rhythms and pace of the piece. But there is a stretch in the second act where the dialogue flounders and stalls. I suppose this is meant to show the fracturing of their relationship, but instead it just caused the play to drag. The chemistry of the leads simply evaporated and it was difficult to believe in their relationship again. It took me out of the emotional space of the piece for too long.

That said, the play does bounce back to some degree, building to a fine conclusion, but I didn’t care as much as I wanted to. In its best moments the dialogue reminded me of Aaron Sorkin in terms of its pace and intelligence, which is why the lapses were so noticeable. Giron set a very high standard for himself in the first act, and I don’t believe he followed through as well as he might have in the remainder of the play.

The look of Kevin Confoy’s production was however very effective with the scenic design (by Jito Lee) and lighting (by Jake DeGroot) transforming the stage in a period appropriate manner and doing an excellent job of taking the audience into this world.

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