Playwright Peter Weiss was very clear about what he wanted to communicate in his 1963 masterpiece “Marat/Sade.” Using the pretense of a play within a play set in an insane asylum in the post-revolutionary France of 1808, Weiss retells history in order to condemn the callous exploitation of the common man by those in power.
“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,” which won four Tonys in 1966, is in a 10-performance run jointly produced by the Star Bar Players and Theatre ’d Art. Although distinguished by a number of excellent individual performances, the production failed to fully realize the theatrical convention so vital to the playwright’s vision.
Most of this cast of 25 is faced with a devilish challenge: realistically depict a mentally ill patient, who is playing a role that the manipulative de Sade has devised for them. It is literally performing two characters simultaneously.
And there were those who mastered this. Director Jonathan Margheim had Simonne Evrard, Marat’s protector and caretaker, portrayed by a psychotic character in drag. Christian O’Shaughnessy made the most of this opportunity as he contorted and shouted his way to a disturbing (but interesting) portrayal. Even when actor Michael Lee had long periods of silence between his potent outbursts as the rabblerousing Jacques Roux, he never stopped projecting the mania of his inmate’s persona.
Then there were the actors who performed brilliantly as characters in Sade’s play but often dropped their inmate psychosis. Dylan Mosley had the task of acting the role Jean-Paul Marat as a paranoid. During his political debates with Sade as well as his own philosophical rants, he was persuasive and appealing. Otherwise, as he receded into his onstage bathtub, there was barely a suggestion of his character’s malady. Crystal Carter as Marat’s murderess Charlotte Corday and Hossein Forouzandeh as the assassination conspirator Duperret were both on the mark during dialogue but lacked consistency when outside of the spotlight.
Due to the excellent performance of Bob Rais, the Marquis de Sade was dominant in this production. He exhibited a powerful range of expression while never failing to project his role as author and mediator.
Ultimately, the lack of commitment from many in the cast kept this production from creating brooding brilliance of the piece. With a greater demand on the actors’ intensity and more pointed expression of the inmates’ insanity, an interesting production could have been transformed into a riveting one.
Who: Theatre 'd Art and Star Bar Players
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 2
Where: Theatre 'd Art, 128 N. Nevada Ave.
Tickets: $15, $12 students, seniors and military, Sunday shows are pay-what-you-can, reservations are strongly suggested; 357-8321, email@example.com