Chicago Theatre Review
All is Good at the Asylum
By Lazlo Collins
Seeing the “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” after so many years, I was a little nervous. It is not done and generally contains a large cast committed to being, well, crazy. Commonly known as the “Marat/Sade”, this intensely written drama by Peter Weiss is a masterwork in its depth of emotions, and what it causes us to think about, as we witness the plays’ events. This innovative play portrays class struggle and human suffering. It asks the very basic questions of power, authority, and our own destinies.
Right Brain Project’s current presentation of “Marat/Sade” is excellent. It is uncomfortable as it is riveting.
The Marquis De Sade was an actual person that the word sadism is named. He actually entertained asylum guests in the very real Charenton facility. His writings were often at odd with the political leaders of France. Add in his writings of a most uncomfortable sexual nature, and you have a man brilliantly mad. Or was he?
The action starts on 13 July 1808; while the play being performed by the inmates is about the death of Jean-Paul Marat on 13 July 1793. Mr. Marat was a radical journalist during the French Revolution.
His writing often attacked those in power, but ultimately a visit from a young woman named Charlotte Corday was to be his end. She stabbed him with a knife while he was in the tub. For political reason, she was not one of his biggest fans.
This play within a play starts with all the uncomfortable moments you could imagine with a play in an asylum. The inmates are in place and ready to put on their play about the death of Marat. The director of the asylum, Coulmier, speaks to the audience and takes his seat with his family and with us. The inmates are pushed, maneuvered, and sometime restrained by the nurses and sisters in order to perform the play. It is an unsettling mix of violence and rage at the very edge of the stage. I must applaud the cast of this show. The varied cast of crazy characters were always in the moment without stealing focus or making any of the characters too broad or unbelievable. It kept the
The musicians were fantastic. Not to mention the quartet chorus. They gave us great interpretations of the musical numbers. Under the music direction of Trevor Watkin, the music enhanced the story and tensions throughout the show.
Nathan Robbel’s undertaking of this project is to be commended. The attention to detail and the effective use of this space (Anthony Ingram and Michael C Smith) are only the icing on the cake for this thrilling theatrical endeavor. The cast moved as one and at one time did it feel too stagey to me. It is hard to keep track of so many actors ALWAYS on stage and ALWAYS having to stay in some kind of interactions without losing focus of the story.
The ending, where the bourgeois family is taken over by the inmates, seemed rushed. It seemed too contrived, and did not play as organic as it could. That said, the show made me feel uncomfortable and on edge. This means the job was done well.
This play is rarely produced these days, so I would recommend this production for those that enjoy a drama of this kind. It is well done.
Just a note: Not a show for the kiddies, and if it is hot, bring some water. It can get hot in the theater space.
“Marat/Sade” runs through 7 July 2012 at the Right Brain Project Rorschach, 4001 N Ravenswood Ave. For tickets, send reservation requests to firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 773-750-2033