Thrillpeddlers ‘Marat/Sade’: a feast of intellect and theatrical magic

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: 5/5 Stars » Outstanding)

This reviewer is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Let us begin with the full title of the play: “The persecution and assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as performed by the inmates of the asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade”. Quite a mouthful! It is a complex title for a complex play-within-a-play.

One does not need expert knowledge of the French revolution to grasp the essential historical elements: In 1808, when Napoleon is in power and seemingly unstoppable in his conquest of Europe, the Marquis de Sade (an inmate of the asylum at Charenton) has written a play set during the Reign of Terror fifteen years previously. At that time, revolutionary Jean Paul Marat continued to call for executions to further the goals of the revolution, while others call for an end of terror. On July 13, 1793, Charlotte Corday, an associate of a group who opposed the continued violence, managed to gain an audience with Marat and stabbed him to death as he sat in his bath, where he was confined due to a rapacious skin disease.

The historical outline offers plenty of food for thought: how necessary is violence? when is it justified? who are “the people”? what is the legitimate role of government?

On top of all that meaty stuff, there is the interesting fact that the play has been written and directed by the Marquis de Sade, who explored the sexual appeal of violence in his writing so brilliantly that his name is used to describe it: sadism.

But wait! There’s more! The performance is being given by inmates of an insane asylum. Is de Sade suggesting that everybody involved in the revolution was to some extent insane? That it is all meaningless?

The result is that this play has everything: philosophical debate, madness, political intensity, bizarre behavior, class warfare (the director of the asylum is present at the performance and tries to keep things under control) and unpredictability.

Add to the mix a Brechtian musical score full of catchy melody and memorable lyrics and you have…. something wonderful but difficult to describe.

Thrillpeddlers presents Marat/Sade through July 29, 2012.

Russell Blackwood, a director who has specialized for years in extreme forms of theatre such as the bloody Grand Guignol and the over-the-top Theatre of the Ridiculous, is an ideal choice to direct a revival of Marat/Sade and he has gone to town with it.

In a recent interview, Blackwood referenced Royal Shakespeare Theatre director Peter Brook in calling Marat/Sade “a piece of total theatre where you are drawing on every convention and trick and theatrical tool that you have”. There is music, pantomime, puppet play, Grand Guignol special effects, nudity, dance, pomp and passion of every imaginable sort. At the opening night performance, audience members were enthusiastic participants shouting and stomping throughout, encouraged by the performers. At one point, the inmates, acting the part of revolutionaries, actually pelted us with papier mache rocks.

The acting and musical challenges of the piece are handled beautifully by the enthusiastic ensemble, and the leads are brilliant. The debates between Jeff Garrett’s Marquis de Sade and Aaron Malberg’s Jean-Paul Marat are easy and exciting to follow. Carlos Barrera as the Herald (a sort of Master of Ceremonies) gives a performance of conspicuous excellence.

On opening night, Marat/Sade received an enthusiastic standing ovation, requiring two full curtain calls. It was well deserved.

Marat/Sade continues for a limited run through July 29. For further information, click here.

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“Marat/Sade” by Peter Weiss, translated by Geoffrey Skelton, verse adaption by Adrian Mitchell, music by Richard Peaslee, produced by Thrillpeddlers. Director: Russell Blackwood. Music Director/Arranger: Scrumbly Koldewyn. Scenic Design: James Blackwood. Costume Design: Beaver Bauer, alice cunt. Lighting Design: Nicholas Torre. Choreography: Andrea Weber.

Cast:

Marquis de Sade: Jeff Garrett. Coulmier: Brian Trybom. Jean-Paul Marat: Aaron Malberg. Simonne Evrard: Kara Emry. Charlotte Corday: Bonni Suval. Duperret: David Moore. Jacques Roux: Rumi Missabu. Herald: Carols Barrera. Cucurucu: Jamie Harkin. Polpoch: Christopher M. Nelson. Kokol: Tom Orr. Rossignol: Connie Champagne. Coulmier’s Wife & Daughter: Lisa Appleyard & Carina Lastimosa Salazar. Nurse: Scott Ragle. Patients: Karl Bigley-Bodlak. Noah Haydon. Alison Sacha Ross. Shawn Toczyl. Sisters: Michael Mohammed, Eric Wertz.

Musicians:

Keyboard: Scrumbly Koldewyn. Strings/Percussion: Victoria Fraser. Brass: Eden Neuendorf. Brass/Winds: Birdie-Bob Watt.

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