Kim Stauffer in WAM's production 2013. Photo by Enrico Spada.

EMILIE is a play about legacy

what do we make with our minds and our hearts

what lasts, what survives, 

what do we put into the world and where does it go...

It's also about fundamental truths of the universe...

of the struggle and triumph of badass women...

of love...

of more love...

of love that defines us even if it betrays us...

The play is a dream

is a play within a play

is a dilated moment in time just before Emilie's death.

It is a game of wit

a defiance of mortality,

a beautiful battle of brains.

Funny, sexy, fiery.

Emilie is a real woman, a true story, 

a myth and a mystery. 

This play is hers.

- Lauren, San Francisco, 2012


EMILIE at Wake Forest University 2012

A Director's Note

from the Atlanta production in 2013...

The Weird Sister's production of EMILIE Aug, 2013.



The play was originally written for 5 actors (3w, 2m).

It has also been produced at universities with 7 actors (5w, 3m) by splitting the part of Gentleman into 2 (separate actors for Saint-Lambert and for her husband the Marquis), and splitting the part of Madam and Soubrette into 2 parts each. 

For more info on this please contact Lauren.


Who is Emilie Du Chatelet?

Oh, just a stunning lady badass of the 

French Enlightenment that you’ll never forget.

No big deal.

By Lauren Gunderson

Emilie La Marquise Du Chatelet was a sexy French brain-powered phenom of the Enlightenment. She was a tour de force of a woman. A physicist at a time before there was such a word, a mathematical genius, a card shark (the practical use of her mathematical genius), a published author, and the love of Voltaire's life. And she was a woman. Which made everything I just mentioned ten times harder to achieve. Accept being Voltaire's lover... which would have been easy to start, but not to maintain for over ten years.

The scientific reason you should know her is that she fought to square speed in the fundamental equations that defined our universe. She fought (and was ridiculed) for standing by the unpopular idea by an unpopular philosopher Leibnitz, who advocated squaring speed in the new equations for Force. Newton said Force was equaled to mass times velocity, F=mv (or F=ma , a for acceleration). Emilie said it was F=mv2 .* What she didn't even know that she was uncovering was the force of energy. A concept that was unexplored at her time in the way we know it now.

But. Her same squaring of speed would show up centuries later in Einstein's e=mc2.

She also wrote the very first translation of Isaac Newton's brand new (at the time) Principia Mathematica. Published ten years after her death, it is still the french translation in use today.



(In almost all of Emilie’s portraits she looks confidently out at her viewer, 

a rare pose at the time.

She is often not in the stylish wigs of the times,

and holds a compass or a book, denoting her intellectual focus.)

So why does she need a play? Her legacy seems to be established by now thanks to some wonderful biographies (the best is Judith Zinsser's Daring Genius of the Enlightenment. With a title like that you can see why she begs for a play). She even got literary love from one the western world's most beloved and acclaimed writers in Voltaire. Thanks to legions of letters to and from very important people we know a lot about her life and times. She wasn't exactly an underdog. She was a marquise, an elitist, a underhanded feminist that demanded her own rights but not those of her own daughter. Why tell her story for a modern audience?

Companion to the demi-myth of Emilie the badass genius beauty, I was struck by her utter and inescapable humanness. The pinnacle of this is the fact that she died too young, in a manner that today is almost unheard of in the developed world. Giving birth at 42, she died surrounded by the three most important men in her life: her husband, her soul mate Voltaire, and the poet and father of her child who reawakened her heart Jean François de Saint-Lambert.

Her untimely passing is in stark confrontation with the single equation that took up most of her life’s work. This equation is the one mentioned above (F=mv2). But what struck me as painfully poetic was that this equation was known a “Force Vive” or “Living Force”. To have a woman so visionary spend her life working on “ Living Force” only to die too soon. It breaks my heart every time.

I love Emilie because even when separated by hundreds of years I still see in her the most common of habits - ambition, love, lust, the need for truth, the unlimited potential for knowledge, the cut of heartbreak, the promise of a new idea, the wondering if you really matter at all.

To me? Emilie tells us that human beings are always human beings. And love and hard work and hope and heartbreak look the same now as they did 300 years ago. That women have always had to prove themselves against harsher critics. That love is never easy. That brilliance is always sexy. That life ends up being about how much you love and trust and come to know yourself. That the largest and deepest of human questions by the most complicated and contradictory of women in history deserves retelling because it tells us about ourselves. Emilie delighted in the reimagining of things. I try and follow her lead.

(One of the rare paintings of Emilie where she is not looking directly out at us,

she looks skyward with her familiar compass in one hand and the other on top of  the world.)

*My physicists and mathematician friends are likely to get mad about my oversimplification.
Apologies! I'm in the theatre!  

Check out more on the math and scientific legacy here and here.

Or just read Judith's book here

Emilie Du Chatelet

Lee Mikeska Gardner as Emilie in the Nora Theatre Company's 2014 production in Boston. 

Kim Stauffer (Emilie), Suzanne Ankrum and Brendan Cataldo in WAM's production 2013. Photo by Enrico Spada.

Passionate. Brilliant. Defiant. Tonight, 18th century scientific genius Emilie du Châtelet is back and determined to answer the question she died with: love or philosophy, head or heart? In this highly theatrical rediscovery of one of history's most intriguing women, Emilie defends her life and loves; and ends up with both a formula and a legacy that permeates history.

EMILIE at Symmetry Theatre, Berkeley 2012

"The standing ovation — for Emilie, for the play, and for the production — is well deserved." - Boston Globe

WABE's radio story on EMILIE in Atlanta - here.

”An evening of humor and heartbreak with a powerhouse ending.” - BroadwayWorld

“How does EMILIE work? Brilliantly.” The Examiner

“A triumph.” Seattle Gay Scene

"Quite the best play I have read in a very long time." Robert Schenkkan, Pulitzer-Prize Winning Playwright

"Gunderson possesses an antic imagination that seeks to invent its own rules. As soon as we’re drawn in, she shakes us and whisks us 10 or 15 paces ahead." –Los Angeles Times

"The ambitious, non-linear experiment is a highly theatrical romp that literally crackles with electricity." –LA/OC Examiner

"Playwright Gunderson's portrait of Emilie through the eyes of a dying woman in which one actress's (Danielle Levin) monologues look back at her life's aims and experiences is an ingenious one." -
Annette Lusk: Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

"Fiercely inquisitive and joyfully sexy," The San Francisco Chronicle

EMILIE at South Coast Rep, 2009


Ancestors of E = mc2

By David bodonis


A famous cartoon shows Einstein at a board, trying out one possibility after another: E = mc1E = mc2E = mc3.... But he didn't really do it that way, arriving at the squaring of c by mere chance, of course. So why did the conversion factor turn out to be c2?

The story of how an equation with a "squared" in it came to be plucked from all other possibilities takes us to France in the early 1700s—to a woman who, in her outspoken brilliance, was out of step with her time.

A portrait of Emilie du Châtelet.

As a teenager, Emilie du Châtelet pored through Descartes' analytic geometry. As a grown woman, she was one of Newton's greatest interpreters. EnlargePhoto credit: public domain/Wikimedia


As a girl, Emilie de Breteuil lived with her family overlooking the Tuileries gardens in Paris, in an apartment with 30 rooms and 17 servants. But although her brothers and sisters turned out as might be expected, Emilie was different, as her father wrote: "My youngest flaunts her mind, and frightens away the suitors."

Despite her father's fears, Emilie had many suitors. At the age of 19, she chose one of the least objectionable courtiers as a husband. He was a wealthy soldier named du Châtelet who would conveniently be on distant campaigns much of the time. It was a pro forma arrangement, and in the custom of the time, her husband accepted her having affairs while he was away.

When she was a 27-year-old mother of three, du Châtelet began perhaps the most passionate affair of her life—a true partnership of heart and mind. Her lover, the writer Voltaire, recounted later, "In the year 1733 I met a young lady who happened to think nearly as I did." She and Voltaire shared deep interests: in political reform, in the fun of fast conversations, and, above all, in advancing science as much as they could.

A portrait of Voltaire.

Voltaire, perhaps the most renowned intellectual of the Enlightenment movement, wrote that du Châtelet had "a soul for which mine was made."EnlargePhoto credit: public domain/Wikimedia


Together, du Châtelet and Voltaire turned her husband's château at Cirey, in northeastern France, into a base for scientific research with a library comparable to that of the Academy of Sciences in Paris, as well as the latest laboratory equipment from London.

When they engaged in their teasing, mock battling, it wasn't the case of a widely read man deciding when to let his young lover win. Du Châtelet was the real investigator of the physical world, and the one who decided that there was one key question that had to be turned to now: what is energy?

Most people felt energy was already sufficiently understood. Voltaire had covered the seemingly ordained truths in his own popularizations of Newton: an object's energy is simply the product of its mass times its velocity, or mv1. If a five-pound ball is going 10 mph, it has 50 units of energy. But du Châtelet knew there was a competing, albeit highly theoretical view proposed by Gottfried Leibniz, the great German natural philosopher and mathematician. For Leibniz, the important factor was mv2.


Du Châtelet and her colleagues found the decisive evidence in the recent experiments of Willem 'sGravesande, a Dutch researcher who'd been letting weights plummet onto a soft clay floor. If the simple E = mv1 was true, then a weight going twice as fast as an earlier one would sink in twice as deeply. One going three times as fast would sink three times as deep. But that's not what 'sGravesande found. If a small brass sphere was sent down twice as fast as before, it pushed four times as far into the clay. It if was flung down three times as fast, it sank nine times as far into the clay.

Du Châtelet deepened Leibniz's theory and then embedded the Dutch results within it. Now, finally, there was a strong justification for viewing mv2 as a fruitful definition of energy.

du Châtelet's geometric drawings from <i>Institutions physiques</i>.

These drawings are from du Châtelet'sInstitutions physiques, her elaboration on the ideas of Leibniz. She finished a major commentary on Newton just before her death.EnlargePhoto credit: University of Hamburg


Du Châtelet was one of the leading interpreters of modern physics in Europe as well as a master of mathematics, linguistics, and the art of courtship. But there was one thing she couldn't control. In April of 1749, she wrote to Voltaire, "I am pregnant and you can imagine ... how much I fear for my health, even for my life ... giving birth at the age of forty." She didn't rage at the clear incompetence of her era's doctors; she just said to Voltaire that it was sad leaving before she was ready.

She survived the birth the next fall, but infection set in, and within a week she died. Voltaire was beside himself: "I have lost the half of myself—a soul for which mine was made."


Advocacy of kinetic energy

In it, Du Chatelet combined the theories of Gottfried Leibniz and the practical observations of Willem 's Gravesande to show that the energy of a moving object is proportional not to its velocity, as had previously been believed by Newton, Voltaire and others, but to the square of its velocity. (Inclassical physics, the correct formula is Ek = 12mv², where Ek is the kinetic energy of an object, m itsmass and v its velocity.)


EMILIE at ArtsWest 2010