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  • Writer's pictureBen Kemper


Or: The One Who Knocks

There are three moments when Fergus Inder’s production of Marat/Sade really finds its rhythm, it’s pointed edge, it’s true voice. Three moments when this seamy, steamy world of grimy white sloughs off like old skin and Truth or Beauty come slithering out. The rest of the production, while artfully uncomfortable and cleverly choreographed in its disorder, needed structure for its spontaneity to climb around and channels for it to pour its blood into. But for those three knife edged moments I’d suffer through hours of “involuntary audience participation”. My advice to you dear reader: come prepared to work, and come prepared to strike back. And, most difficult of all, be prepared to not to shout at the Herald (Katherine Koller) “Take off that &%$#@ing cow bell, it serves no purpose and it drives me bonkers!” Even I am beginning to suspect that those were the two effects in mind.

It’s 1808 and the inmates of the Chareton Asylum, with the blessing of the madhouse’s bourgeois director Coulmier (Jacob Trauberman), are staging a play. Their topic: the persecution and assassination of noted revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat (Matthew Bentley) some fifteen years before by the l’ange de l’assassinat, Charlotte Corday (Zoe Matlby). Their playwright and director: The Marquis de Sade (David Kern), locked away for the multiple writings on gut wrenching torture, sexual depravity and the pleasure to be derived from both. De Sade uses his hour in the limelight to discuss with Marat, now played by a paranoid inmate, the turns of the revolution and their clashing views of the state of utter equality and the hedonistic individual. The inmates use their time to express a desire for freedom and to sing, yes sing, about how the supposed golden age has left them in the dust. Chaos comes again.

For this critic the play provided many a welcome thought about how much I love aristocrats and the steadfast, measured authority they represent. They may use me to their advantage, but at least they use me well and to within reason. When compared to Marat who sits in his bath gleefully screaming for more mountains of corpses and de Sade’s talk of eating hearts and the annihilation of memory, hypocritical Coulmier, who “simpers and smiles and makes love to us all” while occasionally beating a patient senseless, seem downright angelic. And isn’t that a revelation you want to crawl into bed with. But it was from this truth that the company gifted us with the first of these silver moments. What was it you ask? What did they say? What did they do? Sorry, you’ll have to see the play.

Marat/Sade is very much a product of the sixties, full of veiled references to mid twentieth century injustices and rouged up in the grotesque fashion, all the rage in that day (like beehives and rubber clothing). Both its content and its style grate very much on our nerves, even despite our modern cynicism (they don’t even make THAT like they used to). It’s a hard script and Inder tackles it bravely, using his ensemble as a living barometer of the debate: either a collective of clowns, or a motley collective of individuals to idiosyncratic that shallow society can’t handle their unholy truths.

Lead by an surprisingly fine quartet (Nick Fistanic, Brett Warner, Rosie Jo Neddy and Bex Siegel) the inmates dance and scamper and sing and gibber all around us, enacting there own petty hierarchies, their own private quests and struggles around the edges of the play.

It’s when they are drawn together, under de Sade’s direction, and it becomes clear that the whole evening hinges upon his will and desire for gratification that we find the second shining silver moment proffered by Kern, Maltby but mostly from the company: a moment of horrible, torturous, erotic harmony. What is this moment you ask? What sort of lewd stunt does he pull off? Sorry, you’ll have to see the play.

As for our eponymous subjects: Bently as Marat appears as a living corpse, scrambling about in his bath and roaring at us and our supposed hypocrisies. His railing could use some variety, as it becomes increasingly difficult to understand him as the evening goes on, but he does a commendable job of taking high minded principals and crushing them in jaws with a smile on his face. Kern by comparison blows out his mockery of the world loud and clear as Gabriel, crafting and savoring his images of violence like a true storyteller. Even better than his Richard-esque repose of absolute satisfaction though, are his moments of twitching aside the curtain to see real terror and revulsion at the way the world is. It is on this boiling sea of suffering that his Marquis so haughtily sails.

But the real hero of this heroless story is Charlotte herself. It is a truth universally acknowledged that it takes a really first rate actor to play a really subpar one. Maltby is just such a first rater: the poor inmate who plays the Angel Assassin is suffering from the “sleeping sickness” and would much rather lie on her accustomed bench, sloth-like, or follow it around like an old beagle as it is pressed into various scene changes than play her part. Her lines begin like telegraph messages, short, sharp and without any emotion. She is pricked, both horribly and humorously, into action by her extreme discomfort with her scene partner and would be rapist Dupperet (Sean Foer) who never misses an opportunity to “cop a feel” in spite of amusing measures taken against him. Their combined antics make for some of the funniest moments in the play. Yet as the action is ratcheted up Corday becomes more and more lucid until at last she breaks through into the third and final shining silver moment, truth of life and beauty of art joined together. What does she do, you say? What does she cry to the helpless gods? Sorry, you’ll have to see the play. What I can tell you though is that Corday shows us a middle path, the rabbit hole out of this topsy-turvy world. She lies between de Sade’s thought and Marat’s action, the one who steps forward and takes responsibility. The one who has the insanity, the courage, to knock on the door of fate and Get. Things. Done.

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