Entertainment » Theatre


by Christopher Verleger
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Wednesday Mar 15, 2017

In case you were wondering what Peter Weiss's 1963 play, "Marat/Sade," now at OUT LOUD Theatre, is about, its actual title, "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," is pretty self-explanatory.

This play within a play features music, songs, history, political and social commentary, and blurs the abstract line between performance and reality. OUT LOUD Theatre's remarkably talented Artistic Director Kira Hawkridge has always proudly shied away from anything that resembles conventional, linear storytelling, and the result is always impressive, or at least inventive. Although Weiss's script is ostensibly academic and somewhat dense, "Marat/Sade" has the makings of yet another stylish, deeply engaging and -- dare I say -- intoxicating OUT LOUD production.

This mostly imaginary work from Weiss was influenced by "sadism" patriarch, Marquis de Sade, who wrote and directed plays as an insane asylum inmate during the early 19th century. Under the watchful eye of the institution's irritable owner, Coulmier (Michael Puppi, serenely stern), Sade, justly portrayed by a fervently stoic Alan Hawkridge, stages a reenactment of the French Revolution, casting himself as a passive observer with little faith in mankind.

His fellow inmate, Jean-Paul Marat, portrayed with poetic, earnest intensity by Rico Lanni, plays the consummate hero, spouting ideas of freedom from oppression and equality, much like the real Marat, a scientist and journalist known as a "radical voice of the French Revolution."

An anxious, ardent Natasha Cole plays the spooked Charlotte Corday, another figure of the Revolution (referred to in history as the "Angel of Assassination"), endlessly contemplating the murder of Marat, as encouraged by the entire ensemble of inmate actors, who are all the while guided fervently and expeditiously by The Herald (a playful, zealous and impressive Ottavia De Luca), the play's narrator and emcee.

The audience is seated around a squared space enclosed only by lace strings, while the performers taunt each other and audience, frolic with random intention, and occasionally break out in song. These Brechtian show tunes, however, are not designed for a piano bar cabaret scene but rather serve as adversarial speeches, chants, and tirades set to music.

There is mention of such historical notables as Napoleon, Voltaire, Robespierre and Lavoisier, but the inadvertent textbook lesson is secondary to the vigorous, volatile stage activity, where the entire cast remains for the entire running time and where every illustrative movement or motion has purposeful, painstaking intent. (A brilliant scene worthy of special mention has Marat being beaten by Charlotte's hair.) The exquisite makeup and costumes are as effective as they are unsettling and continuously remind onlookers that they are in the presence of lunatics.

The play's overarching theme -- and conclusion -- is open to vast debate and wide interpretation, and the director says it best when she poses the question, "Where does the patient end and the character begin?"

Although I found it difficult at times to comprehend the meaning behind the playwright's words and intentions, OUT LOUD's "Marat/Sade" is a visually stunning, extraordinarily well-acted and directed work of artistry.

"Marat/Sade" runs through April 2 at the Mathewson Street Theater, 134 Mathewson Street in Providence. For information and tickets, visit www.outloudtheatre.org.

Chris is a voracious reader and unapologetic theater geek from Narragansett, Rhode Island.

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