Take a step back into the French Revolution: Upstart Theatre Company takes on ‘Marat/Sade’ in Nevada City
Have you ever had a dream within a dream, or seen a movie within a movie? Well, what about a play within a play? The newly formed Upstart Theatre Company and their experienced players seek to help you check off that final box.
The “Marat/Sade” — playing at the Nevada Theatre this Friday through Feb. 10 — is most certainly an immersive experience that incorporates traditional theatre with a modicum of audience participation.
The live audience within the theatre will be watching a performance being put on by the (fictional) inmates of the Charenton Asylum. Hence, the play-within-a-play reference. Intrigued yet?
Welcome to the French Revolution
Having been first published in German, “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” (for convenience purposes known as “Marat/Sade”), takes place during the French Revolution.
The period piece depicts French writer and aristocrat Marquis de Sade directing a performance while institutionalized in the asylum.
At its core, the play is a depiction of class struggle and human suffering that raises the question: “Where does revolution begin?”
“Originally it was four hours long and really dark and dismal,” said Director Danny McCammon. “It was adapted by the Royal Shakespeare Company into a musical that was more like two and a half hours long, and much more fun!”
With a history based in fact, the play contains some characters that weren’t inspired by imagination, but by reality.
Artistic Director Pam Hodges said, “There are characters who may or may not be fictitious.”
The real Charenton “actually had public performances, and people [went] to watch them,” said Hodges.
As with anything as imaginative and unique, expect the unexpected. For one thing, all of the actors and musicians are on stage for the entirety of the show.
Additionally, “we’re going to have actors in the seats as inmates who weren’t cast in the play-within-the-play; inmates of Charenton who are here to watch ‘their show,’” said Hodges. “The ushers, box office and concessions people will be in costume. There will inmates and guards.”
The score sets the tone
The fun doesn’t end there.
“There’s singing; there [are] very catchy songs. We have live musicians on the stage. Paul Emery is one of them,” said McCammon.
Speaking of Emery, the beloved local musician and producer serves as musical director for the Marat/Sade and has helped get the production off the ground. Nevada City theatre veteran John Deaderick has also collaborated with Upstart for the “Marat/Sade.”
According to all involved, the timing of the “Marat/Sade” couldn’t be more relevant.
“For a theatre company we want to do things that are, ‘edgy,’” said McCammon.
Cosmo Merryweather, who portrays the Marquis de Sade said, “The play is such a rich eccentric stew of a lot of different elements; shining poignant moments and also juicy political themes that are more relevant today than ever. The important thing I think about [the show] is how history is repeating itself in so many different ways. The rich keep getting richer, and the poor stay poor.”
Director Danny McCammon said, “It has a very strong message about human rights, about mob mentality, and it’s kind of touchy, I think. It’s very relevant.”
He added that “anyone voting age” would have much to gain by watching the “Marat/Sade.”
For those who worry that the play’s political messages distract from the production, Pam Hodges said, “We’re not hitting anybody over the head with it. We’re not bringing people up on stage or anything.”
One thing they can all agree on: the “Marat/Sade” is not meant for young viewers or children due to some mature themes.
When all is said and done, McCammon and crew don’t lose sight of the great pleasure theatre can bring to audiences and performers alike.
Speaking proudly of his team, McCammon said, “I’m really happy that we can give [the play] as a gift. There are these people that you may pass on the sidewalk and you never knew that they were just insanely talented.”
No pun intended, of course.
Jennifer Nobles is a freelance writer for The Union and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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