PW’s new show, Marat/Sade, is a dizzying sensual overload. The play, directed by Andy Colpitts ’16 and written in 1963 by the German playwright Peter Weiss, won the 1966 Tony for Best Play, perhaps in part for its topicality in a period of social turmoil. Its depiction of the frustrations and tensions of class warfare feel no less relevant today.
Marat/Sade is chiefly a play-within-a-play, mounted in a French insane asylum in 1808 by the writer, philosopher, and onetime politician the Marquis de Sade. Ostensibly, the prisoners’ play tells the story of the assassination of the radical writer and theorist Jean-Paul Marat in 1793, at the height of the French Revolution. As the performance goes on, however, it becomes clear–to the displeasure of the onlooking and occasionally intervening asylum director Coulmier (Spencer Roth-Rose ’17)–that the prisoners have their own agenda to press.
PW’s Downspace has been turned for the production into a chained-off ring that feels half-prison, half-circus. A four-piece live band is on hand to supply music, although half of its members also come down to the main stage to play inmates during musical breaks. Four more inmates also serve as singers, and the musical numbers are impressive in and of themselves–tightly and often unusually choreographed, pleasantly dissonant, fluidly performed.
The ensemble cast, some with painted faces, many in ghostly white uniforms, are endearingly strange, dancing, chanting, and hollering in an almost orgiastic chorus. Mention must be made, in particular, of French hornist Zach Woessner’s ’18 midplay contortionist routine, which emerges as a totally unexpected highlight of showmanship. Comic relief is provided by Brian Semel ’16 (a BlogDailyHerald staff writer) as the sneering, sardonic Herald, a de facto master of ceremonies.
While Marat/Sade is doubtless an ensemble piece, it feels essential that the lead roles be handled deftly, and here they are. The (traditionally male) role of the Marquis is assumed by Amelia Scaramucci ’17, sporting a thick grimace of red lipstick and a stiff cross-legged pose as the overseer of the production. The Marquis descends from time to time to offer an annotation of his writing, and Scaramucci handles these in a perfect tone of tortured arrogance. In one particularly emotional scene, the Marquis asks to be whipped by Charlotte Corday–Marat’s eventual murderer–as he speaks about the Revolution in anguished determination.
Marat, meanwhile–or rather an unnamed inmate who is assigned the role–is played by a topless Marcus Sudac ’17 from within a bathtub. Scribbling and glancing frantically, Sudac blurs masterfully the line between Marat and his inmate impersonator. Marat’s ideological treatises, delivered as trembling pleas, are supplanted in tenderness only by the interactions between Sudac and his caregiver, played by a captivating Jennifer Averie ’17. Their performances are the emotional pillars of the play, as chaos reigns around them.
It is worth noting that going to Marat/Sade knowing little in the way of historical context can make it a tricky viewing experience. Certainly, much of what is being discussed can be intuited, but a line-to-line understanding of the dynamics between the characters’ competing ideologies is difficult without some background knowledge on revolution-era France. There were points at which lines fell flat for me, and my suspicion that I was not alone was confirmed at intermission, when I overheard my neighbors referring uncertainly to ‘The Reign of Terror, or whatever it was called.” Nonetheless, the larger social and philosophical points of the numerous monologues come through well enough, and the sparkling visual and auditory effects of the production speak for themselves.
Images via Emma Dickson ’16.