Mental institutions seem to inspire THEATREdART and the Star Bar Players. Last year, they combined for the first time with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Starting this week, they're digging into 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, or just Marat/Sade.
As the title suggests, the setting of Peter Weiss' 1963 play is the "lunatic asylum" of Charenton, a real place built in the mid-17th century that was known for its humane treatment of inmates. It was the home of the Marquis de Sade, a libertine philosopher and writer, from 1801 until his death in 1814.
The play takes place in 1808, and opens with de Sade (played by Bob Rais) directing the inmates of the asylum in a production about the French Revolution, which occurred 15 years earlier. It goes on to explore the themes of revolution through the ruminations and arguments that take place among inmates and staff, and between de Sade and the patient playing the revolutionary Marat (here, Dylan Mosley).
"A lot of the arguments the characters use resonate today: The dispossessed, underprivileged people rising up, like the Arab Spring," says director Jonathan Margheim. "Revolution is on a lot of people's minds lately.
"But it doesn't take a heavy-handed approach in the way it talks about revolution. It's not judgmental."
Joining Mosley and Rais onstage are about two dozen other cast members who stay there for the entire production, all confined to a cage. "There's no 'fourth wall,'" Margheim says. "[Audience members] are in the asylum with the inmates. They're in there with them in 1808."
The music for the production was written and will be performed by local band Rogue Spirits, who used the original score for inspiration.
Since the play has been around a while, it has been subject to many different treatments. "Lately there's been a lot of modernizing and anachronizing," Margheim notes, "like placing the story in an all-women's prison, or places like Abu Ghraib, which is what the Royal Shakespeare Theatre did.
"We're keeping it in the 1800s and not flying off the rails. There's a little modernization here and there. A nod to waterboarding, for instance."
For the rest, he sticks to the original (though he trimmed down the original 2½-hour run time), including perhaps the most famous scene of the play, which depicts de Sade being whipped according to his own instructions. And yes, that's actually going to happen.