Marat/Sade – Slants Slants Revolution


Marat/Sade, Photo Credit: Sarah Heiderman


It was approximately one million fucking degrees inside of the Chicken Box last night.  And that was BEFORE the fans cut out.  It was so hot in there that my nipples were sweating, which sorta neat, as I didn’t even think that was possible.  It’ll be hot when you go (when, not if).  But just sit with it.  Work with it.  Let it be very, very hot.  Let it be so hot that your blood feels pulsey in your veins and the skin between your toes feels both wet and dry.  Let yourself get so hot that you’re almost aroused by it, that discomfort and pleasure find a common ground.  Let it be so hot that it finds the Marquis in you.  Of course, if you take this too far, you may end up, like I did, browning out in front of the theater and having to have the artistic director of the company concernedly get you a chair and a cloth.  Well, okay, to be honest, that was probably 1% due to the effect of the play and 99% due to the fact that I have an infection burning through my body right now, but still.  My point holds.  I could say a million words about Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade (technically titled The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates at the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade and now you see why we shorten it) but I’ve already spilled that ink, as a large portion of my college thesis was devoted to it.  So I’ll pass.  Marat/Sade is one of the most famous modern “play-within-a-play” pieces.  It’s set in the Charenton Asylum during the year 1808.  The conceit is that the Marquis de Sade (Philip Doccolo), an inmate, has written a play centered on the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat (Trevor Wilhelms), one of the most radical voices of the French Revolution.  The murder took place in his bathtub and was perpetrated by Charlotte Corday (Molly Margulies) in 1793.  The inmates of Charenton play all the parts, performing the show under the supervision of Sade and for the pleasure of the bougie Director (Rex Anderson) and his wife, Mrs. Coulmier (Kris Hanrahan) – and, of course, us, too.  The soul of the story is the dialogues between Sade and Marat (duh) which are fascinating because they’re really just Sade talking to himself.  He vacillates between extreme cynicism about the point of revolution and absurd infantile hope that it’ll somehow work out, someday, somehow.  It was a stroke of inspiration on Annex’s part to schedule this play in July, when the actual Revolution (s) occurred and right after the most jingoistic of American holidays (Sade’s line: “My patriotism is bigger than yours” got a hearty laugh).  Let’s say this:  watching the show, I found myself, at first, detached.  I’ve seen it before.  I’ve seen it a lot.  I read it every year in October.  I’m hard to impress.  But, about twenty minutes in, something in my brain started going: “Wake, up, stupid!  Wake up!  This is good.  Oh, this is very good.”  Heiderman and Doccolo keep a suffocatingly strong reign on this production and, while I understand that that sounds like a bad thing, it isn’t.  It needs it.  Their direction had all the delayed gratification of a thrashingly good orgasm, a little, a little, A LOT, a little, SLOW DOWN, and NOW.  They play our nerves like a piano and never lose their focus.  That is imperative.  Of course, they are GREATLY aided.  The cast is fiiiiiine and I mean that like a REALLY cute honey.  Doccolo’s Sade is incredibly voiced and sexysexi in a grim, steel-boned kind of baddest boy way.  He doesn’t push the part too far and has several skin crawlingly good moments that arise from his impeccable attention to detail.  Like sure, there’s the famous scene where Sade allows Corday to whip him with a cat-o’-nine-tails whilst spouting revolutionist theory but watch Doccolo right after.  For some reason, it seems more obscene the way he lightly takes Corday’s hand and crouches in front her when it’s all over.  While Doccolo is amazingly good and studied, it was Trevor Wilhelms who stole the show for me, admittedly by a very small margin  His Marat by way of paranoid cut my heart apart with his eyes.  I swear to God at times I thought I saw SMOKE rising from his body, that’s how fucking hot his performance was (from that damned bathtub, no less).  He’s so crazy he’s sane, so smashed he rises above.  I felt like he had electric wires running through his skeleton that were jolting him around like Frankenstein’s monster.  It. was. cray.  Molly Margulies was straight up haunting as a victim of “melancholia” sleepwalking her way through Charlotte Corday.  She’s kind of like a spooky ramrod puppet being pushed and pulled around the stage.  The way her lips jerk upwards when told to smile will infiltrate my dreams for years to come.  Catching my eye from the supporting cast was Jon Dallas, playing a rapey Duperret (his scenes with Margulies turned out to be some of my favorites).  At one point, he is sort of dragged across the stage by his penis, which is an accomplishment in and of itself.   Scott Burke was a scream, popping up and down as the Herald, a nervous creature who keeps the show running by way of a very large stick.  He’s the sort of subservient fellow that you can well imagine has snapped and killed at least one of his masters.  I also very much enjoyed Siobhan Beckett playing Rossignol.  Her voice (there is some Brechtian singing) is lovely and she was gleefully invested, seeming disturbingly and truly mad a couple of times.  Allyson Washington also gives a surprisingly effective turn (she has no spoken lines) as a nun who seems to be employed to keep the chaos in check and who functions as a kind of conscience.  Her relationship with Corday is especially tender.  In general, though, the cast was ludicrously good.  There is deep understanding that turning this into a simple freak show (as it the case with the 1967 film adaptation of which I am NOT a fan) is not enough.  There are souls inside of them.  There are people there.   In this show, the set, the setting, is almost the starring character and it was also fan-fucking-tastic.  Frederick Gerriets seats the audience in a single row high above the action behind a janky railing, almost like a particularly Jekyllian operating theatre.  There’s a large florescent light fixture on one wall and a wooden/metal candle lift jutting from the ceiling, which is a nice visual juxtaposition between the antiseptic notions of modern psychiatric “facilities” and  the horrors of the medieval nuthouse.  Costumes by Philip Doccolo (who seems to have been a busy bee, as he also did props AND starred AND directed) weren’t breaking the mold, but were serviceable white linen shifts that were so wet by the end of the show they were positively see through, which worked splendidly.  Makeup by Siobhan Beckett was deliciously icky without straying into that cheap “haunted house” genre (and, unlike what is so often the case, she didn’t forget about the teeth!).  Here is my advice to the cast and crew of Marat/Sade:  hold it.  Hold it right there.  Do not go further.  As the run continues, you’ll get a little bored, a little complacent and you might think to push this into caricature.  You might lose the humanity as you reach for the laugh, or the scream, or whatever.  Don’t.  The hesitation, the uncertainty, the vacant, quiet islands in the cacaphony give your production the edge above others.  Don’t lose them.

BOTTOM LINE:  Of all my many favorite plays, I have always found Marat/Sade to be the most resonant for me, personally.  And, of all the many, many productions of it I have seen, it is gigantic for me to say that I believe this one to be the most authentic, the closest to Weiss’ vision for his work.  The. show. was. on. fire.  It was dire and funny, disgustingly beautiful, innocent yet terribly, terribly profane.  The lavish minimalism of the production combined with the intense commitment of the (talented) cast make this the fucking show of the summer.  It is, without a doubt, a revolution.

Running at Baltimore Annex Theater until August 3rd.


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