It takes chutzpah for a fledgling community theater, such as Free Association Theatre Ensemble of Cary, NC, to mount a full-scale modern-dress production of German playwright Peter Weiss’ provocative 1963 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, in a storefront in Harrison Pointe Shopping Center, on a shoestring budget, with overhead fluorescent light fixtures illuminating the action.
Set in 1808, just nine years after the French Revolution (1789-99) had run its bloody, brutal course, Marat/Sade is set in the Charenton Asylum, where the notorious libertine the Marquis de Sade (played with a wicked gleam in his eye by Jeffrey Bergman) was committed for the last 13 years of his life. When the curtain rises, it is July 13, 1808, and de Sade has written a play to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the 1793 assassination of Jean-Paul Marat (Thom Haynes) by Charlotte Corday (Noelle Barnard). De Sade gives the actors, who are all residents of the asylum, inflammatory dialogue in a perverse ploy to horrify and humiliate Coulmier (John Paul Middlesworth), the bourgeois head of the asylum, in front of a small audience of invited guests.
In 1963, when Marat/Sade author Peter Weiss writes about a late 18th century and early 19th century time of political and social upheaval in France, the French masses were once again following 20th century firebrands into the street and demanding a revolution now. Weiss asks whether revolution then or now was/is the solution to society’s problems, and he sets his unorthodox debate in a madhouse bathhouse and employs well-known historical characters, such as de Sade, Marat, and Corday, to fight his rhetorical battles.
Jeffrey Bergman is positively creepy as the Marquis de Sade, Thom Haynes starts slowly but eventually summons up the revolutionary fervor of Jean-Paul Marat, and John Paul Middlesworth is suitably starchy as the asylum superintendent. But FATE founder and artistic director Julya M. Mirro has Noelle Barnard act so silly as Charlotte Corday that Marat’s murderer becomes an annoying twit. Chris Brown gives his usual squinty fussbudget performance as the rabble-rousing priest Jacques Roux; and Mick Williams performs his part Corday’s unrequited love, Duperret, with passion if not polish.
In coaching her cast to accentuate their characters’ mental problems, director Julya Mirro seems not to have heeded the warning from Robert Downey, Jr.’s character in Tropic Thunder not exaggerate mental illness into offensive caricature — for the sake of cheap laughs. The byproduct of Mirro’s stocking her stage with a host of gibbering idiots is that playwright Peter Weiss’ biting political commentary gets lost among the ravings. Thus, Marat/Sade ends with a whimper, not a bang.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 9th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/11/09/790343/daunting-maratsade-made-simple.html. (To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment‘s online version of the Nov. 5th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/11/fate-tackles-maratsade/.)
The Free Association Theatre Ensemble presents MARAT/SADE at 8 p.m. Nov. 11-13, 3 p.m. Nov. 14, and 8 p.m. Nov. 18-20 at 267 Grande Heights Dr., Cary, North Carolina 27513.
TICKETS: $15 ($10 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel.
BOX OFFICE: 919/228-8184, FATEreservations@gmail.com, or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/132687.
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marat/sade (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=7041 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060668/ (Internet Movie Database).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Weiss (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=8133 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0919140/ (Internet Movie Database).
Erin Brown: http://ernbrn.com/ (official website).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.