Bare Theatre had — and, hopefully, still has — another hit on their hands: Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade. I say “hopefully has,” because, after their Saturday, March 14th, opening night at the Durham Friends Meeting (Quaker) in Durham, NC, this production (like most others) has been put on hold.
The full name of this 1963 play is 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. It was first performed in 1964 in West Berlin; opened on Broadway on Dec. 27, 1965; and ran 145 performances, winning the Tony Award® for Best Play, as well as the 1966 New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Play.
Peter Weiss’ play is primarily a play-within-a-play, performed at the Charenton Asylum for the insane. We first meet the actors who are inmates at the asylum. We also meet the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814) (who is directing the inmate-actors); the director of the facility (named Coulmier, played by Jennifer Daly) who thinks that she has control over the content of the script; and a nurse who tries (sometimes actually successfully) to maintain order.
Each of the inmates has his/her own distinct quirks, which naturally help shape how they perform their roles in the play-within-the-play. Marat spends the entire length of the play in a tub in which he is taking medicinal bath for a debilitating skin condition.
Jean-Paul Marat (1743-93) and the Marquis de Sade are two actual historical figures from the French Revolution (1787-99). Jean-Paul Marat was assassinated on July 13, 1793. Sade lived until 1814, having spent 12 of his last years in Charenton; and there are records of his actually having directed the inmates in plays during that time.
Peter Weiss’ play consists of philosophical point-counterpoint examinations of various socio-political questions, of the French Revolution in particular, and of the phenomenon of revolution in general. In the play-within-the-play, we see various characters confronting Marat along with stylized “reenactments” of various events leading up to Marat’s assassination.
Under the direction of Dustin Britt, this production is fast-paced and up-tempo. The blocking is very imaginative, and the unison pieces (vocal as well as physical) are executed with precision.
Musical director/composer Al Riggs has arranged a first-rate original score, and seven of the 13 actors double as musicians. Additionally, most of the actors execute multiple roles, doing so with aplomb.
Dance numbers, choreographed by Maggie Hatfield, are brilliantly appropriate for these inmate-actors, and the cast faithfully perpetuates the illusion, skillfully playing the parts of actors-who-are-less-skilled-than-themselves.
Every member of this cast manages to shine; but I feel compelled to single out Jennifer Daly (as Coumier), Natalie Sherwood (as Marat), and Simon Kaplan (as Sade).
The opening march — the inmates enter singing La Marseillaise, a.k.a. the French National Anthem).
The variety of instruments played by the cast members to produce the music — including a guitar played, at times, with a bow (by Mark Werdel) and a kazoo and a pill bottle (by Emily Levinstone).
The “liturgical” style of much of the narration. Kudos to Douglas Kapp (as the Herald) and to props designer/director Dustin Britt for the clever way in which Kapp’s cane is disguised.
The crisply mimed actions of several cast members.
The larger-than-life caricatures.
The “bare” set (created by Katie Judge) that so thoroughly captured the essence of the setting of the play.
The fact that several familiar actors were so “in character” and so well-costumed (courtesy of Victoria J. Bender) and imaginatively made-up (thanks to Chelsea Denno) that I failed to recognize most of them until well into the action.
From the Department of Picky-Picky: There is a sequence in which Emily Levinstone plays the part of a horse. Why was she not given coconut shells?
Hopefully, Bare Theatre will be able to continue the run of this show after our current state of corona-oia has subsided.
SECOND OPINION: March 10th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods: https://indyweek.com/culture/stage/al-riggs-bare-theatre-marat-sade/.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The current cornonavirus pandemic has forced postponement of the show’s final performances until April. — RWM
REVIEWER: Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.