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.