The theater scene here in Portland continues to impress me with the diversity of plays one can see. Last weekend, my good friend Christie Quinn invited me to see her show Marat/Sade at the Twilight Theater. This is the second show of hers that I’ve seen. (The first was Shock Opera).
A completely different show, Marat/Sade explored the persecution and assassination of Jean-Paul Marat who was a politician and journalist during the French Revolution. Peter Weiss wrote the play in 1963, and the play is actually a play within a play. The long title of the work is actually: 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. The best way I can put it is that the play presents a juxtaposition of the good behind revolutions as well as the consequences of them, with a dose of the sardonic.
Not knowing much, well nothing, about French history other than my buddy from US Air Guitar who uses Marquis de Sade as his air guitar character, I admit my initial skepticism to seeing the work. Truthfully, I don’t care much for world history. I’m glad I saw it, and I’m glad I have friends who push my limits. The play fascinated me so much that I went back the next day and watched it again. It was that well done.
For those like me who know nothing about the French Revolution, Marquis de Sade = sadism, literally. He’s the father of it. Known for his sexual mojo and general blasphemy, he embraced absolute freedom without regard for the law, morality, or faith. While not the best role model in the world, he is fascinating nonetheless, and he wrote many of his works from jail. He actually did direct plays (in real life) from the Asylum of Charenton. He serves as one of main characters in the play as its director.
Jean-Paul Marat, in contrast, presented a voice for some of the poorest members of society, and many considered his writings to be some of the most radical of the revolution. He seemed to never let go of a moral compass and a sense of doing the right thing. As noted, the play is a play within a play and the main play takes place in the Charenton Asylum after the French Revolution on July 13, 1808. The play inside the play (directed by Marquis de Sade) takes place in the middle of 1793 and culminates on July 13, 1973, with Jean-Paul’s assassination. In that play, inmates actually act the parts, and a lot of the dialogue focuses on the fact that a lot of of the people that the Revolution was supposed to help, were no better off than before. The actors often stepped outside of their “lines” though, to highlight their displeasure of what transpired and how they still remained at the lower end of the social strata. Interspersed in the play, Maquis de Sade engages in nihilistic rants and philosophical dialogues with Marat. Ultimately, I felt the play presented (in a very unique way) the realities of revolutions and how movements aren’t all what they are chalked up to be. The play highlighted the ideological differences between the protagonist and antagonist and everything in between.
I recommend going to see the play, or an adaptation of it, if you ever have the chance. The run of shows at the Twilight is over, but I am sure other theaters in the Northwest will feature it. For me, it was an easy play to follow, and I felt, through the story, it was easy to learn and follow the general story of the French Revolution. In short, I learned a lot in those two hours sitting in the audience, and it left me wanting to read more about not only the playwright, but about that historical period. That says a lot for someone (as mentioned above) who doesn’t really care all that much about history.
I would be remiss without talking about the theater itself and the actors. Most importantly, this play gave me an opportunity to see the Twilight Theater. To be forthcoming, I never embraced theater as a child or as an adult, yet now I find myself obsessed with it. I think all it took was meeting a couple of actors and seeing how much really goes into producing a play or a musical. After seeing some of the long and arduous hours that actors put in to simply audition, let alone act in a play, I appreciate it even more. The theater itself was the perfect size and layout, and no bad seats existed in the theater. Moreover, the actors did a tremendous job of being, well, creepy. After all, their job was to play insane inmates in an asylum. They found a way to do that from interacting before the show in the lobby to in the theater itself before the show. No one stepped out of character the entire time. One of the “inmates” masturbated, literally, the entire show while another seemingly never blinked his eyes once (I am sure he did, but his gaze was SO creepy that I didn’t notice it…I had to sit in the beeline of his stare the entire first act). The best part of the show was of course, “What is a revolution without copulation.” If you ever wanted to know what a giant orgy in an insane asylum looks like, well, you missed out. I saw it twice. I think every possible type of sex, even one man dry humping the floor, took place in nary a 3 minute scene. Again. Awesome. I really hope to see some of these actors in other plays around the city.
Ultimately, I look forward to seeing my friends act in more shows, but also I look forward to seeing more shows at the Twilight Theater. This years list of shows finishing out 2018 can be found here. To say they cover a broad swath of material is an understatement. Perhaps I’ll see you at the next show:)