nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
October 17, 2010
I needed a healthy dose of Advil after The Secret Theatre's production of Peter Weiss's play Marat/Sade. There's a lot of screaming in this production, directed by Kelly Johnston. Unfortunately for the audience, the environmental staging of this lunatic asylum-set piece happens in a tiny, cramped rehearsal room where the piercing screams of the cast echo off the uncovered cement walls and floor.
But that's the least of the problems, considering that the plot is virtually incomprehensible, at least in this production. Audience members sat apparently bewildered at the goings-on, and I'd venture to say the only semblance of story they gleaned came from the play's full title, 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.
Weiss uses the "play-within-a-play" format and Brechtian alienation techniques to tell the story of the radical political theorist Marat's assassination at the hands of Charlotte Corday. Acting out this story are the inmates of Charenton Asylum in post-Revolution France, as directed by de Sade, who actually did, apparently, direct the inmates of Charenton Asylum in plays. Musical numbers are used to comment on the themes of the play, but this is not a musical.
Of the cast, particular standouts include Gerron Atkinson's booming, authoritarian de Sade and Heidi Zenz's haunted Charlotte Corday. The remaining members, all 19 of them, should be given credit for being incredibly convincing as lunatic asylum inmates, each in their own world, all fighting interior demons. In that sense, the performances Johnston and choreographer Charlotte Layne Dune have gotten from the cast are spot-on. But there's such a strong disconnect between that and telling the story that it just becomes a confused free-for-all.
The production's most effective moments come before the show even begins, when a nervous man in a lab coat passes out visitor badges and leads us down the stairs to the auditorium, where a woman is sitting outside the theater doors, playing the saw, and the actors are inside, making spooky sounds. The accompanying uneasiness was extraordinary. Too bad the rest of the play wasn't like that.