|Jennifer Madison Logan, Greg Prosser, and Randy Patterson. |
Photo by Alicia Turvin
As we trudge, wary but hopeful, toward the 2018 midterm elections, trust our good friends at Twilight to bring us that ever-popular ray of theatrical sunshine, 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, familiarly known as
Marat/ Sade. With its impossibly perky subtext: “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” (or, if you prefer, the less tasteful “vote out the bastards, vote in the sons of bitches”), Director Dorinda Toner’s massive 24-person cast explodes across the stage, bringing playwright Peter Weiss’ dark 1964 play to life in a grim reminder that even the most enlightened and progressive political revolutions rarely yield lasting positive change, especially for the downtrodden.
For those of you who, like me, might not have a clue what to expect when walking into the theater, here’s some basic intel about stuff we learned in school but may have since filed away under “irrelevant”: the French revolution started in 1789, and initially ran through 1799. The French monarchy was replaced with a shaky and thoroughly bloody republic, there was lots of turmoil, and ultimately the revolutionary hero Napoleon Bonaparte (having conveniently sidelined some of his more liberal republican impulses) took the reins in 1799, created The Consulate, and then in 1804 began a 10-year reign as French emperor. Each step in this complex process was justified, at least in part, by the argument that making France a more liberal country that would bring a better life to the oppressed masses (we all remember Marie Antoinette and “let them eat cake,” right?). While they succeeded in abolishing the monarchy, attempts to create an egalitarian, poverty-free society were notably less successful. All of this info is key because Marat/Sade is a play within a play, ostensibly written by the infamous Marquis de Sade (funny how we all remember him, right?) exploring the 1793 assassination of radical republican Jean-Paul Marat. The only other thing you need to know is that the action takes place in the (insane) Asylum at Charenton, circa 1808 while Sade was an inmate – as part of their therapy, the inmates are performing Sade’s play, with the asylum director and other members of the bourgeoisie as their audience. Oh – and resist the urge to sit in the middle of the second row. Unless you are very, very tall, the seat directly behind Coulmier, the asylum director, yields a limited view of center stage, and things happen there!
Twilight newcomer Randy Patterson (the Marquis de Sade) is one of the few actors portraying himself (as opposed to being a character within the play he has written). He gives the role a controlled menace, with just tiny bursts of mania, and the slightly creepy effect is enhanced by his makeup, strong and expressive features, and daunting physical presence – as his “play’s” director he is mostly silent and still, but always worth watching, and when he does speak everyone listens. Patterson plays primarily off two other key characters, Greg Prosser’s Marat and Stan Yeend’s Coulmier. Yeend clearly has fun, and is fun to watch, being quintessentially bourgeois. He’s well-dressed, full of bluster and condescension, leaping to his feet and loudly objecting with lightning speed each time Sade’s play begins to tread on dangerous turf, and quietly comforting his daughter when the action on stage gets a mite too raucous. Prosser is tougher to read – although he’s playing a paranoid schizophrenic tormented by chronic skin disease playing a bloodthirsty rebel, he spends almost the entire play seated in a large bathtub wearing only a beige diaper (the role is often played fully nude, but I appreciate Toner’s directorial choice to provide minimal cover). Because of the tub’s placement (upstage, and not well lit), the audience does not get close enough to Prosser to really feel his performance – and one of the great strengths of Twilight is the immediacy that comes with audience proximity to the stage.
The vocal ensemble is powerful, and does full justice to Lola Toner’s fine original music. Among the resident lunatics, a few are particularly noteworthy for their ability to commit consistently to their roles, even when they are not the center of attention, in particular Chris Murphy, Samuel Alexander Hawkins, and Tony Domingue. Skye McLaren Walton turns in an unforgettable performance as the incredibly libidinous Duperret, and Eva Andrews is stunningly focused, and totally oblivious to Duperret’s constant rape attempts. Props to almost all of the women for gracefully letting it all hang out during the final orgy, with special recognition to Kaitlynn Baugh for confidently providing a moment of tasteful downstage nudity. Jeff Giberson’s Herald is nicely sardonic, but perhaps a bit too glib to mesh cleanly with the rest of the cast – I found myself wondering whether he was actually present in the asylum or simply a one-man Greek chorus.
Marat Sade is not performed often, and it is rank understatement to say that it’s a challenging show to direct, perform, and watch. I suspect that most audience members walk out (as I did) wondering exactly what they have seen. However, it’s worth the trouble – see it, ponder at length, reflect on the currency of the topics in a world that seems no closer to getting it right than the rebellious French of the time. Do not, however, take your kids along, unless they are at least 18!
Twilight Theater Company’s Marat/Sade is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through October 28th, with performances at 8 P.M. on Fridays–Saturdays, 8 pm, Sundays, 3 pm & Thursday, October 25, at 8 pm.