“A play within a play” with a timely revolutionary message returns to local stage
January 19, 2018
In its third production in 30 years, a "play within a play" taking place at an insane asylum a decade after the French Revolution has returned to Nevada County audiences with a timely message for a modern turbulent era.
In coming weeks, Paul Emery and The UpStart Theatre Company led by Danny McCammon and Pam Hodges will present the very dark comedy with universal truths, "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."
The local production of the award-winning Broadway play will run Jan. 26 through Feb. 10 at the Nevada Theatre.
The newly formed collective of artists who make up The UpStart Theatre Company chose the play as their inaugural production for its history in the community, its grand scale, and cogent themes. The 1963 play by Peter Weiss, originally published in German, is a depiction of class struggle and human suffering that asks whether true revolution comes from changing society or changing oneself.
“The play is about the corruption of democratic ideals by a hypocritical elite. Nothing could be more relevant to today.”
— John Deaderick, actor
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"We are not trying to 're-do' it," said Artistic Director Pam Hodges. "This play is multi-layered and stands up to any number of approaches to its presentation. We are very excited to be presenting it with a very talented cast and Director Danny McCammon."
Nevada City has a long history as a cultural center and theatre is an integral part of that identity, said John Deaderick who played the role of Marquis de Sade in the first two productions of the play and directed the second. He has produced, directed, written, and/ or acted in over 200 theatrical events in Nevada County.
"The play is about the corruption of democratic ideals by a hypocritical elite," Deaderick said. "Nothing could be more relevant to today. There is a quote from the script: 'you talk about freedom, but who is this freedom for?' That says it all."
This is the third time Paul Emery has been involved with the production commonly referred to as Marat/Sade due to its long title. With a cult-like following, the play owes its history in Nevada County to alcoholic beverages, old friends and half-dares.
"In 1995 I was playing music at Wiley's Bar in Nevada City," said Emery, who serves as musical director in the upcoming production. "I played the theme song of the play, as recorded by Judy Collins. My friend Kate Kane mentioned being involved with the play in college. A couple of drinks later and we had decided to bring the play here."
In the 1960s, Marat/ Sade was popularly staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company, winning several Tony Awards. It was later adapted into a film.
Writer and Professional Actor Sands Hall directed the first run of the play locally during the winter of 1995 at St. Joseph's Cultural Center. It appeared again to sold-out audiences in 2005 at the Center for the Arts in downtown Grass Valley when Emery was the executive director of the venue.
A play within a play
Upon entering the theater, members of the audience enter the Asylum of Charenton a decade after the French Revolution, to witness a play performed by the inmates.
"On the way to their seats in the theater, the audience had to walk some distance, up and down stairs, and through dark hallways, in the process passing a number of inmates — actors having a wild and wonderful time being 'crazy,' yelling and shouting from 'cells' and rattling their 'cages,'" said Hall of the original production at Saint Joseph's Hall.
"In this way we were able to creepily and effectively create Weiss's vision: that the play takes place inside an insane asylum, and provide the audience with a visceral sense of what it might have been like in the time period of Revolutionary France."
At the asylum, Marquis de Sade is the director of the play about the assassination of Jean Paul Marat, a leader of the revolution, famously murdered in his bath. Marquis de Sade is famed for his libertine writings depicting the pleasure of inflicting pain on others, giving rise to the term "sadism."
Marquis de Sade was historically incarcerated at the Asylum of Charenton for more than a decade for his abusive, violent, and aberrant views and behaviors and did direct inmates in his plays.
The actors playing inmates also act out the roles of historical characters and the "chorus" populace in the aftermath of the revolution, which brought great bloodshed, without improving their lot. The musical ensemble sounds like a French circus with singing, trumpets and drums.
"And so revolutions must happen again and again, which I think is one of the reasons for the enduring popularity of this play: it can be set in another time, but it is utterly relevant to our own — whenever 'our own' may be (these three local productions in 30 years is testament to that)," wrote Hall.
Contact Freelance Writer Laura Petersen at email@example.com or 913-3067.