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Theater Review: Bare Theatre’s Spirited MARAT/SADE is Worth a Visit to the Asylum

The full title of the 1963 play by Peter Weiss effectively sums up the plot: 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. It is truly unfortunate that Bare Theatre’s production of Marat/Sade was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic since it was an exhilarating and scarily clairvoyant experience.

Marat/Sade is a play within a play, based on the time the Marquis de Sade actually spent at Charenton during the last years of his life in the early part of the 19th century. At that time, it was permitted and even encouraged as a form of therapy to direct inmates in plays. The events leading to the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat on July 13, 1793, are intertwined with pseudo-philosophical debates between Sade and Marat over the tenants of the French Revolution.

Director Dustin Britt allows his talented troupe to exercise free imaginative rein with the characterizations, and all steer clear of stereotypical tropes. The outlandish and exaggerated seem to make more sense than the struggle of the facility supervisor, Coulmier, convincingly portrayed by Jennifer Daly, to maintain control of the spectacle being presented on stage.

Simon Kaplan’s Sade is sassy in both dress and attitude, watching with bemused disdain as the inmates valiantly attempt to enact a drama his character has written. Rosemary Richards offers an entrancing picture of Charlotte Corday, Marat’s murderer.  Natalie Sherwood’s Marat is also wonderfully captivating. Douglas Kapp shines as the blind herald, regaling us with rhyming couplets and a jaunty, haunted demeanor.

Many of the actors in this production of Marat/Sade, not only performed multiple roles, but also doubled as musicians, creatively using various unconventional instruments (kazoo, bow on a guitar, pill bottles)  to execute an original score conceived by music director al Riggs. Their rousing renditions were comically uplifting, and Maggie Hatfield did a fine job of choreographing dance sequences that were spirited and playful. 

Props to Chelsea Denno for the slightly off-kilter makeup design that accented the personalities of the inmates, as well as the variety and inventiveness of the costumes by Victoria J. Bender. And compliments to the vision of set designer Katie Judge for her effective use of the space at the Durham Friends Meeting House.

Although other concerns are occupying everybody’s thoughts at this time, it’s good to be reminded that fabulous Triangle theater will prevail, which is why when this show is re-staged, you shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy a ticket.

Bare Theatre’s production of Marat/Sade was postponed due to COVID-19. For more information on when the production will be rescheduled, visit https://baretheatre.org/.

For a complete list of show cancellations and postponements, visit the RDU on Stage Calendar Page.

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