MARAT SADE Reviewed by Jeffrey R Smith of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle The Thrillpeddlers are currently performing “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.” If you cannot remember that prolix title then the succinct, MARAT SADE, will suffice and get you tickets for the correct show at the Brava Theatre in San Francisco’s Mission District. If you cannot remember Marat Sade and his role in the French Revolution then perhaps you might remember Marat Sade via the painter Jacques-Louis David who immortalized Marat in his painting “The Death of Marat;” the painted resides in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels. Before launching into the play, a historical excursus may be helpful, given that the adversarial relationship between Marat Sade and the Marquis de Sade as depicted in the play is not without historical basis. In the days prior to his assassination, Marat had fallen out with the Marquis de Sade and was arranging for his arrest. We might call the assassination a preemptive strike given that the Marquis de Sade was becoming appalled with the excesses of the Reign of Terror which Marat fanned with his uncompromising incendiary revolutionary rhetoric. Given the excesses of the French Revolution, it seems incongruous that the infamous Marquis de Sade should be removed from office and imprisoned for his "moderatism." Marat’s assassin—about which this play orbits—was the crafty Charlotte Corday. Corday gained access to Marat via a ruse, an urgent letter of petition—one of the first of many murders conducted by letter carriers. Prior to ripping through Marat’s sternum with a kitchen knife, Corday engaged him a political discourse for nearly a quarter of an hour; her salient points were obviously lost on Marat. The nefarious Corday hid her knife in her corset which fashion historians argue was probably a size too large in order to comfortably accommodate both her anatomy and her weapon. As George Santayana said, "Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it." Marat, ignoring the lessons of the ORESTIA, like Agamemnon, feels the sting of the assassin’s blade while trustingly and vulnerably soaking in a bath. It calls to question if sponge baths or a speed baths in public restrooms would not be better suited to political extremists. Miss Charlotte defended the assassination saying "I killed one man to save 100,000." As the whirly-gig of time would have it, for her well-meaning treachery, Charlotte Corday ultimately ends up on the receiving end of an ever bigger blade; the angled blade “humanely” advocated by Doctor Joseph-Ignace Guillotin. Peter Weiss, author of the play on which this adaption by Adrian Mitchell is based, questions whether revolution can truly achieve lasting change or significantly improve the human condition. We may vote out, toss out or execute the current cadre of bureaucrats, bankers, brokers and tax collectors, but necessity and culture will replace them with possibly an even more rapacious brood—remember: after the French Revolution came Napoleon. Be warned: when the English version of this play opened at the Royal Shakespearian Theatre, a minimum of 30 repulsed and disgusted people slipped away each night under the anonymity of intermission. Critics charged that the “nudity and bodily effluvia were shocking and the text itself was overwhelmed by the raw outpourings of primal emotion.” Now that’s a pretty strong endorsement. Be warned a second time: the show does contain nudity so depending on your degree of prurience or priggishness and where you are seated, opera glasses or a lorgnette may be appropriate. The philosophical debate between the Marquis de Sade, who “fails to delve into his words fully,” and Marat seems to take a back seat to the chaotic violence it precipitates. De Sade is the engine in the play; he cynically conducts philosophical dialogues with Marat; badgering him, all the while observing the proceedings with sardonic satisfaction. De Sade remains detached when the inmates speak of rights and justice; he shows little regard for practical politics; de Sade stands by as an observer and an advocate for his own nihilistic, epicurean and individualist beliefs. Topically, the show is highly relevant given that it is an election year and perhaps a critical turning point for the middle class of the hitherto pampered world. As in the case of a revolution, the audience might ask itself, “Will a different political party be able to affect change?” or “Does the economy even have a political solution?” Perhaps it is time that the middle class reinvents itself: steps away from its consumer identity and redefines itself in terms of its cultural, intellectual, humanitarian and creative aspirations. MARAT SADE is a graphic diatribe against inadequate leaders who manipulate their people into complacency. While a revolution is taking place within the central cage of the set—leaving the floor strewn with clothes and bodies—the spectators i.e. the bourgeoisie as symbolized by the hospital director, Coulmier, his wife and daughter, sit in silence, uncertain as to how to react. Despite the best efforts of Coulmier, the patients make a habit of speaking lines Coulmier attempts to suppress; the patients deviate entirely into personal opinions. The play is both highly original and shockingly potent philosophically; it is a psychological journey into one of the most complex and brutal periods of recorded history. Multi-layered ideas come at the audience like insects splattering on a windshield; the words and images can be overwhelming; this is not casual entertainment; this is an exploration of history and the deepest questions of good and evil and free will. Dazzling and provocative costuming by the Bay Area’s award winning Beaver Bauer take this show from spectacle to spectacular; as Oscar Wilde once said, “Anything worth doing is worth doing to excess,” and Beaver has clearly approached that ideal. Jeff Garrett is smashing as the Marquis de Sade; when it is time to be whipped by the “cat of nine tails” Garrett is no shirker; the cracking of leather on his flesh would send a freak on holiday. Aaron Malberg as Jean-Paul Marat is masterful, he proves that understatement is the best depiction of profundity; caught in the web of his own political conceits, MR Malberg’s Marat is visibly tangled in a philosophical loop that does not provide exit strategies. Bonni Suval, as the nefarious Charlotte Corday, portrays a heightened psychopathic urgency and intensity; her every expression and movement seem to beg the question, “Can I kill him now?” Director Russell Blackwood does a marvelous job conducting this chaotic, riotous three ring circus orgy that seems to oscillate between a cast party and a mental hospital. Rarely does the carnal spirit of the French Revolution get captured by the Klieg Lights. MARAT SADE at the Brava is not the faint hearted; this is gritty; shocking; offensive; this is well worth the time and money. For more info, surf on over to www.thrillpeddlars.com.