It's true. "The Revolutionists" all lose their heads on a giant guillotine. But before they're dead, we get some good laughs in between.

Lauren Gunderson's play about the fate of four women during the French Revolution's Reign of Terror in 1793 has finally opened at St. Paul's Park Square Theatre. The show grafts contemporary dialogue onto history-based figures, creating both relatability and humor and some daft metatheatrical references to musicals and plays about plays.

But it's not all insider stuff. Shelli Place's staging for Prime Productions is slyly, dryly funny with a strong directorial vision, stylish performances and some strong design elements — MJ Leffler created the set with the imposing scaffold, Karin Olson designed the lights that blind as the blade comes down and Sonya Berlovitz fashioned the fetching period costumes.

As a treat for the dweebs among us, the dramedy centers on a writer with writer's block even if she's a doomed protagonist. The talent of playwright Olympe de Gouges (Alison Edwards) is so noteworthy that even Marie Antoinette, as poofy and fluffy and out-to-lunch a queen as ever, comes barging into her studio seeking help to tell her story.

In fact, it's a tossup about who wins the attention in the show. Gouges, who's struggling to find her mojo, has the most lines since the characters —assassin Charlotte Corday (Jasmine Porter) and Haitian revolutionary spy Marianne Angelle (Tia Marie Tanzer) — come to see her.

But it is Marie (Jane Froiland), with all her outré antics, who is the most memorable and affecting. And she has the emotional maturity of a toddler. When she starts to feel tired, Marie immediately decides that she wants to take a nap, tipping over to lie on Gouges' lap. What's appropriate for a cocooned, misunderstood royal anyway?

Froiland also earns the biggest laughs in the show. Her timing is expert, her delivery sharp and impeccable. And she looks and carries herself with regality from her corseted dress to that her bouffant bewigged head. (Bee Tremmel styled the show's hairpieces).

Edwards' Gouges is the straight woman of "The Revolutionists," and she essays the role with a sense of duty and a contained emotional arc. That stoicism is present as she takes her walk up the scaffold. Tanzer's Marianne is matter-of-fact, and the young actor delivers an underwritten role with understated aplomb. Porter rounds out the cast with enthusiasm as her Charlotte relishes the thought of stabbing Marat in his bathtub.

Playwrights sometimes reflect the world as it is or imagine worlds that they would like to see. "Revolutionists" is not earth-shattering by any measure, but by backlighting the past through the present, it gives us new ways of seeing, if not being. Besides, we can all be grateful for the laughs.

'The Revolutionists'

Who: By Lauren Gunderson. Directed by Shelli Place for Prime Productions.

Where: Park Square Theatre, 20 W. 7th Place, St. Paul.

When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 3 & 7:30 p.m. Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends April 16.

Tickets: $40-$55. 651-291-7005 or