A Bold Production of "Marat/Sade" at the Brava Theatre

Marc Huestis and Thrillpeddlers are presenting an intrepid new staging of Peter Brook’s 1964 Tony winning “Marat/Sade” at the Brava Theatre through July 29th. I remember seeing the original production in New York in 1964 where it created quite a sensation. This has the luridness of Artaud “theatre of cruelty” and the cool, estrangement devices of Brecht that creates a theatrical revolution in a deeply frightening way about the failure of the French revolution.

We are in France in 1808 and the revolution is not only over but it has been decisively reversed since the rich are back on top, the poor back in their hovels and Napoleon Bonaparte is deep into his campaign to rule the world. The pornographic genius, the Marquis de Sade, has been incarcerated in an insane asylum that prides itself on its progressive policies. The head of the asylum in the spirit of advancement has allowed the Marquis to present a play here has written about the 1793 assassination of revolutionary firebrand Jean-Paul Marat using fellow patients as actors. A paranoid plays Marat, a narcoleptic the assassin and so on. Of course toward the end of this play within a play all hell broke loose to present a wild and sexual scene of “depravity”.

This is a powerful production, staged with imagination by Russell Blackwood and performed by strongly cohesive ensemble with some outstanding individual roles. Every inch of the large stage becomes part of the Charenton asylum. The large cast commit to the physicality and power of their characters. Central to the production is the impudent portrayal of the Marquis de Sade by Jeff Garrett. It’s an enthralling and very-changing creation and he is always winning and believable.

I also enjoyed the bold interpretation of the Herald by Carlos Barrera who has a striking theatrical voice. Bonni Suval who plays a patient suffering from melancholia and narcolepsy gives a moving performance as Charlotte Corday while Aaron Malberg is excellent as the moralizing Jean-Paul Marat.
Brian Tryborn gives a very understated and moving performance as the head of the asylum Coulmier as does Lisa Appleyard and Carina Lastimosa as his family. Noel Haydon who is a shy patient at the beginning of the drama suddenly burst out coming back on stage in drag. He gives an unflinching performance of an early Joan Crawford in her “jazz baby” days. (By the way he has beautiful legs) David Moore is a real hoot who can’t keep his hands off of Charlotte Corday.

Tom Orr, Connie Champagne, Christopher Nelson and Jamie Harkin perform Brechtian choral numbers which particularizes the story for our own historical moment. Occasionally the sweet voice of Michael Mohammed dressed in a nun’s habit joins in.
“Marat/Sade” plays through July 29th at the Brava Theatre, 2781 York Street, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-863-0611 or on line at www.thrillpeddlers.org