One of the most complex postwar German plays, Marat / Sade is a challenge to read and a tour de force to stage. The team of director James Leaf ’10 and producers Jan Luksic ’11, Steven De Marco, and Devon Dunn ’12 embarked on an ambitious project with 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, which can be watched on the LoebEx stage until November 7th.
Making good use of the LoebEx space, the play’s minimal sets are mobile and easily transformed. Although there are only a few objects on stage, the central space is always boldly occupied by the actors. A plethora of paintings, drawings and inscriptions relating to the French Revolution sprawl
across the walls like graffiti and mirror the agitation on stage. All visible spots within the theater are exploited. The guard opens the massive back door to suggest an exterior world separated from the realm of the play; the Marquis de Sade orchestrates the “ceremony” from above everyone else, sitting at the top of a flock of stairs. The audience feels engulfed in this unchained environment, which constantly reminds the spectator of his compliance in being a spectator.
The interpretation of the play is consistent with Antonin Artaud’s theory of cruelty as a tool of breaking with traditional dramatic illusionism. The playwright Peter Weiss was considerably influenced by Artaud;
the script itself suggests an Artaudian staging model, which makes the LoebEx performance grow naturally from the text. The way in which the circumstances of the French Revolution can still speak to
a contemporary audience resides at the core of the imagined dialogue between the sardonic Marquis de Sade and Marat, the physically weak journalist who becomes the voice of the revolution. Weiss uses rich layers of artistic expression to articulate his discourse on the tension between personal and collective change. The dense text is diluted with interwoven recurrent musical pieces paired with emphatic movement and pantomime in the actors’ performance.
The LoebEx show operates at several levels to unfold the strata of signification in Weiss’s play. The burlesque effects and the interplay of word and music make the performance enjoyable for first-time audiences, but the show is most rewarding for the experienced theater spectator. The
focus on interaction with the audience successfully addresses potential differences in the reception of the play. The bourgeois director of the asylum, Coulmier (Gabriel Drapos ‘13) sits with his wife (Alexandra Rose ’12) in the first row next to members of the audience. Toward the end of the show, the Marquis reveals the spontaneous reactions of the spectators by randomly lighting up their faces with spotlights. These devices of interaction blur the line between the actors and the audience; they are daring enough to get the spectator involved, but limited enough to keep everyone comfortable and to leave the option of passive observation
available at all times.
The performance sometimes relies too heavily on the text. Eloquently performed by Olivia Jampol ’10, the Marquis de Sade has several philosophical incursions which require prolonged attention from the
audience. The body language of the actors and the element of sheer spectacle hold the interest of the spectator when the textual
information withdraws to limited levels of engagement. These instances almost make the spoken text manifest, delivering it in unfamiliar patterns.
A Brechtian device of estrangement, the narrative voice of the Herald interrupts predictable developments, including the peak moment of the assassination of Marat. Playing the Herald, Brandon Ortiz ‘12 successfully captures the ironic and selfreferential dimension of his character’s role. An alternation of surprise and predictability is kept alive through most of the play.
The final scenes reunite laughter and misery. Everyone is caught between
rationality and madness and governed by pain and desire. The performance concludes with a burlesque explosion brought about by the heavy accumulation of unresolved tensions. The show succeeds in challenging and altering the spectators’ perception of reality, drawing them into the fictional realm of the play; fragments of the agonizing dialogue between the Marquis de Sade and Marat still haunt me.
Sonia Coman ’11 ([email protected]) lives with the ghosts of revolution.