Goeden gives voice to Marie Antoinette

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

With a record number of women elected to Congress in November and increasing numbers of women speaking out across the globe, females are fighting to be heard. Historically suppressed, the voices of women are the subject of a play at Strawdog Theatre in Chicago's North Center neighborhood, where Sarah Goeden of Oak Park, plays Marie Antoinette, the fallen queen during the French Revolution.

In The Revolutionists, the four female characters are based on historical characters. According to Goeden, the play focuses on "the voices of women during a time when white men were in power, making decisions about the revolution."

She sees that dynamic as not having changed much in 225 years.

"We're in a time in the U.S. and around the world where women's voices are still not dominant or not equal or desperately suppressed," she said. "This play grapples with how that affects everyone."

Goeden has been acting since age 8 when she took the stage in a community production of Jack and the Bean Stalk because her piano teacher was looking for someone to carpool with her daughter, who was also performing in the play. Goeden has been acting ever since, first appearing in a Strawdog production in 2008 and becoming a company member in 2011.

"For years I was really impressed with the ensemble," she said. "The actors were emotionally invested and did truthful, honest work that was exciting to watch."

As a company member, she has input on Strawdog's season, which is different from many other theater companies. The Revolutionists is part of Strawdog Theatre Company's 31st season: "Bravery."

"We talk about the stories that matter to us most, socially and politically," Goeden said. "We choose the season and ask the bigger artistic questions. As an actor, you don't always have that agency."

Goeden also appreciates the audience feedback, hearing from theater-goers who stay for a drink after the show, who write what the shows mean to them or attend fundraisers. The Strawdog audience, she said, is a community.

"It's fulfilling and ties you to why someone wants to do this art," she said, "because you can talk to the people and have conversations with them as you act."

In the role of Marie Antoinette, Goeden takes the audience on a journey.

"She's someone of privilege who has been sheltered, so she has many quirks … and says some things that are racist and insensitive, and she doesn't realize it," Goeden said. "You're supposed to look at her as a dingbat, but then she becomes wise. It's a journey of learning, which is wonderful."

The play is written as a comedy and although it takes place in 1793 Paris, it is a modern work, first produced in 2016. The Revolutionists was penned by prolific playwright Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwright in America.

Other characters in the show are playwright Olympe de Gouges, assassin Charlotte Corday, and Haitian rebel Marianne Angelle, who is an amalgam of real-life individuals. Goeden describes the design of the show as "punk-rock glamour and modern."

"When you think about a revolution, how can women's voices be heard?" Goeden said. "[Gunderson] wrote a witty play about historic figures, but I hear the voices of friends I know. The characters talk like real women. That is really important right now."

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