With time comes perspective, and the mixture of politics and dramatic audacity that made Peter Weiss's Marat/Sade so shocking originally is unlikely to cause similar reactions today. However, under the direction of Fred Newman, the Castillo Theatre Company presented a stunning theatrical experience that paid homage to the piece and exploded with dramatic intensity of its own.
The play is thick with ideas that are still morally valid, even if they no longer new. This presentation was highly stylized, but after all, these are the inmates of the asylum of Charenton who are performing the story of the persecution and assassination of Jean-Paul Marat. Marat's politics don't get much play these days, but this Marat/Sade, for all its huffing and puffing, isn't really about that anyway. It's about the glories of theatre.
When Coulmier, the asylum director (Roger Grunwald), welcomes the real audience, it becomes apparent that the play will function as a commentary on theatre, and a damning one at that. The inmate who plays Charlotte Corday (Gabrielle Kurlander) has narcolepsy and melancholia and goes through most of her actions half-asleep. De Sade (Dave DeChristopher), as playwright and director, has several hidden agendas, and Coulmier functions as critic and censor, trying to keep everything in circumscribed boundaries. "We want our revolution now!" the people cry. "The revolution came and went" the Herald (David Nackman) intones. How like theatre, how like life.
Hosannas to each member of the cast, whose intense concentration never flagged. Simply acting madness is easy, but this was triple duty. Even if some of them could have been better-spoken, or if occasionally one lost track of who was ranting about what, the performance was never less than fascinating to watch. Three, no, five things always seemed to be happening at once, but the action was not diffuse, and only a stage could hold it all. This was underscored by the presence of two towers with video screens showing a stylized version of the very play we were seeing, cold and lifeless compared to the rich vibrancy surrounding it. The towers, the bathtub (production design by Sheila Goloborotko), the ragged costumes (by Charlotte and L. Thecla Farrell) were all in shades of blood (or jungle) red, which augmented the players' screams of pain.
And to top it all off, this play about class warfare, religion, politics, the nature of man, art, sex (all of which get the shaft in extraordinarily artful ways courtesy director Newman) is actually a musical. Ellen Korner was a wondrous presence and in terrific voice, and when Kurlander awoke to sing she was resplendent. There was nearly continuous music (musical direction by Dan Belmont), and just as much to listen to as to watch.
So much here was symbolic, but the best metaphor was the block of ice suspended from a net over Marat's bathtub, continually melting, dripping, the inexorable progression of time, the ticking of a clock. Perfect.
Also with Jeremy Black, Madelyn Chapman, Anthony Craig, Christina DiChiara, Bill Dickey, Nancy Hanks, Kenneth Hughes, Lisa Linnen, Cecilia Salvatierra, Zenobia Shroff, Jamel Thigpen, Emmitt H. Thrower, Tom Vasiliades, Vicky Wallace.
Musical Direction 2
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Copyright 2000 David Mackler