Sunday, January 11, 2009

Balagan scores again with Marat/Sade

We're completely blown away by the fascinating work being done at the up-and-coming Balagan Theatre on Capitol Hill. Balagan's production of Othello last month was first-rate, and its new show, Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss and directed by Richard Clairmont, is a mind-boggling tour-de-force.

The full title of the 1963 play, originally written in German, is The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asulum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade. That's a mouthful; we'll stick with calling it Marat/Sade, as TPAAOJPMAPBTIOTAOCUTDOTMDS is somewhat lacking as an acronym.

According to the program notes, de Sade often wrote and staged plays, with inmates as actors, during his commitment at Charenton. In a nod to that, Balagan's basement stage is enclosed in chain-link fence, and we the audience are the dandies of Parisian society come to see the shows by the loonies in the asylum. Though we're asked not to prod at the inmates through the fence around the asylum.

And it's quite an asylum. Even before the metophorical curtain goes up, the cast are ranting and raving about. There are 21 of them, and they're mostly all on stage all the time, so there's a lot of lunacy to watch. In the middle of it all Lyam White as de Sade was a sea of relative calm, even while being flogged, as he "directed" the play within the play, a debate about who are really the good and bad guys of the French Revolution. His toady, the Herald, who stuttered on his Fs, was played f-f-fantastically by Ryan Higgins, who directed Balagan's Othello. And Heather Roberts was downright spooky as Charlotte Corday, who assassinated Jean-Paul Marat (Jason Harber), a leading politician and journalist of the revolution.

At one point in the play Coulmier (Jonathan Wright), the director of the asylum, complains to de Sade that "You really can't call this education." But one of the things we love about Balagan is that it's smart. The program cover, for example, is a re-creation of the 1793 painting "The Death of Marat" by Jacques-Louis David. And the players are always in character, even, as my Sweetie, the Scorer notes, in the restroom during intermission.

About 3/4 of the way through the play it struck me that it was loaded with beautiful language, some of which I'd decided I had certainly missed because of the visual specacle of the production. That sounds like a good reason to go back again. That would offer the opportunity to see if a few opening-night giggles go away. Though maybe that was part of it; you never know what's going on in the minds of those loonies.

Check out Marat/Sade, playing at Balagan through Jan. 31.

4 comments:

Jason said...

Thanks for the kind words...it was a pleasure to have you in the house for both Othello and Marat/Sade. Do you mind if I pull quotes from your blog, or add it as a link to our Marat Facebook page?
Jason Harber

Weisenheimer said...

Jason,

Please feel free to use whatever you'd like.

--Greg

Lisa said...

I think you were a dramaturg in a past life.

Sweetie the Scorer said...

I've got to add a nod to the music in Marat/Sade. This is, after all, a musical! Part of what made Heather Roberts' performance as Charlotte Corday so effective was her sweet singing voice. And I had the pleasure of sitting about five feet away from the piano and enjoying Michelle Mai Smith's feverish and superior playing -- complete with mannerisms in character!