The Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama is presenting a very creative, energetic and colorful production of Peter Weiss’s 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.
Director Dale McFadden has set the play in our time so the audience is committed to being active participants, invited and willing guests. As we sat waiting for the show to start a warm female answering machine voice kept telling us that “At Charenton art and therapy go hand in hand, we’re modern.” Throughout the evening Abby Rowold as Coulmier the resolute director of the asylum tried to reinforce the therapeutic message even when things got out of hand, and the cast had to be restrained and put back on track.
Alex McCausland was debonair, but tiredly restrained as the Marquis de Sade. In Weiss’s drama, the Marquis is the author, but the play itself seems to have a separate life as his characters get out of hand and even argue with him. Much of the argument about the efficacy of revolution or retirement comes from Mathew Martin as the play’s frustrated victim Marat.
Alana Cheshire was a wonder as Marat’s murderer, Charlotte Corday with the strangest pathetic, appealing and appalling take on the dumb blond that I imagine I’ll ever see. Ryan Dooly was her peculiarly graceful dance partner.
The instrumentalists and singers for Marat/Sade are all inmates of Charenton and play roles in the drama. Led by music director Eric Anderson, Jr. from the keyboard the scrappy All Star band of David Chervony, David Coleman, Rebecca Masur and Sam Gurnick held forth to good effect on clarinet, violin, cello and banjo seated, marching or strolling. Tyler Gillespie, Brittany Martin, Evan Mayer and Hana Slevin were the show’s accomplished vocal quartet.
Casey Ellis, Mathew Tepperman, Brianna McClelland and Nicole Bruce were very effective as Charenton’s guards, a black clad, efficient and mostly uninvolved quartet.
Jennifer Sheshko’s creative costume designs ranged from the contemporary for the director and staff to a variety evoking the period from formal attire for the Marquis through the strait jacket of the defrocked priest and on to various approaches to creatively deployed rags.
One of director McFadden’s chief aims is to make this production as clear a presentation of Peter Weiss’s ideas and his frustrations about the chances for personal and societal change as possible, but this is no dry approach. He’s marshaled all the tools of theatre to make it as entertaining and vitally theatrical as it is meaningful.
Interestingly enough, in the second act there are two long pauses. In the first the actors simply stood still, in the second they were free to exercise a few of their minor tics. Both were strangely comfortable….something to think during or to think about.