Hindi Greenberg: ‘Marat/Sade’ is a well-done, insane production
The Upstart Theatre Company, a collective of theater artists formed in January 2017, is presenting, in collaboration with Paul Emery’s Nevada City Live!, a play entitled “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” — often shortened to “Marat/Sade.” It is a play within a play, complete with music and dancing.
The main story is set in an insane asylum in 1808, following the French Revolution, where the asylum director thinks the play within the main play is a celebration of post-revolution beliefs.
But actually, the asylum inmates act out a play depicting class struggle and human suffering, as directed by the Marquis de Sade (from whom the term “sadism” was derived and who was actually incarcerated at Charenton and directed plays there), that is set during the French Revolution, culminating with the 1793 killing of the writer and revolutionary, Jean-Paul Marat.
“Marat/Sade” is a play with music and songs that comment on themes and issues within the play, offering historical, social and political commentary. The musicians and singers are all inmates of the asylum and are situated on stage.
The themes the play addresses are as current now as during the French Revolution, as well as when the play was written in 1963 by the avant-garde German writer, Peter Weiss.
Issues explored are individuality, sexuality, abuse of power, freedom versus control, and the boundaries of sanity. The play has been called “total theater” because it engages all the senses with every imaginable theatrical contrivance — a cacophony of sounds and sights, including wild music with feral dancing and movement.
The production values and acting were all exemplary. Directed by Danny McCammon, who outstandingly made the continuous whirlwind on stage coalesce. Creative music direction by Paul Emery on guitar, leading three other musicians, one who amazingly jumped around playing accordion. And wonderful costume design by Pam Hodges, artistic director of the Upstart Theatre Company. The makeup was also fascinating.
It was obvious that all the actors were enjoying themselves immensely and threw themselves into their parts, contributing to the believability of the craziness of the asylum. The main leads — Danny DeLuca playing Jean-Paul Marat, Cosmo Merryweather as the Marquis de Sade, Thomas Wolfe as Coulmier (the director of the asylum), and Kate Haight as Charlotte Corday (the timid, singing killer of Marat) — embodied their characters, all based on historical fact.
The four clowns — Micah Cone, Tina Marie Kelly, Jacquelyn Kolenko and Jesse Sabin — were remarkable to watch and listen to as they sang and flounced around the stage.
In my view, the wordiness and repetition of themes in the play became somewhat tedious; the playwright could have made some strong edits. And for me, the discordant sounds and over-the-top text wore a bit thin.
However, others in the audience thought everything about the play was fabulous and strongly disagreed with my textual critique. And that’s what’s so wonderful about the theater experience — a variety of opinions and analyses, and the reality that many parts of a production can be extremely enjoyed even if other parts aren’t so much.
Visit the insane asylum that is “Marat/Sade” through Feb. 10 at the Nevada Theatre.
Hindi Greenberg is again amazed at the talent in our community. A large cast and production, well-done!
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