Photo courtesy Theatre Pro Rata
Throughout her life in the first half of the 18th century, Emilie du Chatelet thirsted for knowledge. Relentless in her pursuits, she knocked on the door of concepts more than a 100 years in the future, along with fighting against the male-dominated scientific community and sharing a bed (and intellectual pursuits) with Voltaire.
A lot for one lifetime, yet as Lauren Gunderson's play posits, it wasn't enough.
Gunderson's play allows Emilie another evening on earth, and the always inquisitive and methodical scientist uses it to explore the central events of her life. The Theatre Pro Rata production takes this proof one step further, presenting the action in a St. Catherine's University science classroom, complete with a periodic table hung over the chalkboard.
Gunderson charts two paths here. In one, she examines the "heart" of Emilie, charting her marriage, children, and other loves, including the great French writer and, later, a younger poet.
In another, she looks at du Chatelet's intellectual pursuits, including a central obsession. In Newton's work, force equals the mass times velocity. Emilie supported a less-popular counter argument: that it was a proportional equation: mass times velocity squared. She was on the right track, not just in the representation of kinetic energy, but also Einstein's theory of relativity.
For non-math lovers, there is still plenty of interest in the play. Her intellectual pursuits and battles with Voltaire, along with their pursuits in the bedroom, make for an engaging hook throughout the play.
That's aided by Shanan Custer, who steps out of her usual comedic roles for a convincing turn as the title character. Emilie's relentless pursuits come through in Custer's performance, as it appears the character is always thinking multiple steps ahead.
She is aided by a talented additional cast, led by Matt Sciple as Voltaire. There is definite chemistry between the two (the kind not represented on the periodic table), which helps make a show centered as much on intellect as passion move along with real energy and a firm grasp of its ultimate goal.
IF YOU GO:
Emilie: La Marquise du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight
7:30 pm. Fridays and Saturdays, June 14-22;
Lecture Hall 106, Mendel Hall
St. Catherine University
2004 Randolph Ave., St. Paul
For more information and tickets, call 612.234.7135 or visit online