Marat/Sade is the short title of Peter Weiss’s play whose full name is The Persecution and Assassination of Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.
The play made a great stir in 1964 when Peter Brook directed a production in London. Albert Schultz, Soulpepper’s Artistic Director, has now mounted a credible production of a confusing play that has a lot of theatricality but falls short on comprehensible drama.
A programme note informs us that the play is a “potent stew influenced by Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, Kafka’s sense of paranoia, Henry Miller’s jaunty eroticism, and especially Brecht’s theories.”
Stuart Hughes and the Marat/Sade ensemble. Photo: Cylla non Tiedemann
That is a lot of stew to ingest let alone digest and the production for all its brave attempts at bringing everything forth does not always work.
Schultz and Set Designer Lorenzo Savoini set the play in a cage. Fair enough, we are in an asylum. The play is updated to today’s Canada with the asylum of Charenton being moved to Collins Bay Institution in Kingston. There are some references to current events and we are treated with a couple verses of O Canada.
The central figure of the play is Jean-Paul Marat (Stuart Hughes), the French radical journalist and revolutionary who was assassinated in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday (Katherine Gauthier). That is dramatic enough but I think his fame rests more on Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat which was painted shortly after the assassination.
The large cast goes all over the place with singing and cavorting around the stage. Marat sits in his bathtub throughout but does stand up occasionally as his assassination approaches with Corday’s visits.
The Marquis de Sade (Diego Matamoros) who directs the inmates’ performance sits on the side on a raised chair and takes relatively little part in the action. Jacques Roux (Frank Cox-O’Connell), former priest and radical, Marat’s mistress Simonne Evrard (Deborah Drakeford) and the hormonally overcharged Duperret (Gregory Prest) take the leading roles. Oliver Dennis plays the Herald who is a sort of manager and chorus of the inmates.
As the time for the assassination (and the end of the play) approaches, we see Corday doing a veritable striptease behind a screen. She moves erotically towards Marat in the tub and says “I am coming” with an obvious sexual connotation. She raises the knife to stab Marat and a cast member stops her with a sign that reads “interruptus.”
Another actor daubs some red makeup on Marat to indicate blood and the troupe continues with a song about what happened in the fifteen years following Marat’s death. This is a good indicator of Brecht’s idea of epic theatre – tell a story without re-enacting it realistically. There are strange happenings but we are in an asylum after all.
There are some effective scenes but on the whole the play rambles without focus for much of the time.
Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss opened on September 22 and will run until October 17, 2015 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Tank House Lane, Toronto, Ontario. www.soulpepper.ca