The play's unexpurgated title is 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, but really it's a debate about a) the need for revolutionary change, and b) man's inability to cope with that change. The didactic script was written by Peter Weiss, who was born in Germany, raised in Sweden and influenced by the severe theater of Bertolt Brecht. Hence we get no lighting changes, nothing that might manipulate the viewer. Actor and audience, we're all sharing this experience together. Well, maybe not completely together. There is, after all, a reassuring note in the playbill that "the patients have been warned not to touch you." (They are, however, allowed to touch themselves, and at least one inmate seems to derive great pleasure from the touching.)
"Woe to the man who is different," one character warns. "He shall be mocked by the blinkered guardians of morality." Sade deplores the "moral guardians" who would censor his play. (A viewer must remember that Marat/Sadetakes place in 1808, in a society where Roman Catholic priests were quick to impose their beliefs onto the political discourse. Obviously that aspect of the play is no longer relevant to today's audience.)
Director Eric Little sometimes refers to his production as Marat/Sade: The Musical. It's a point well taken, because the evening abounds with song and vaudeville. Yet despite the play's inherent mayhem and melody, today it's hard to view it as much more than a historical curiosity.
Marat/Sade-By Peter Weiss. Performed by ECHO Theatre Company through September 26 at the Soulard Theatre, 1921 S. Ninth Street. Call 314-995-2123.
Because Marat/Sadeis staged so infrequently, this ECHO Theatre production offers a rare opportunity, not only for audiences to witness the perverse entertainment, but also for actors to indulge in its idiosyncrasies. The large cast is a veritable who's who of local actors, including Anna Blair, Chopper Leifheit, Sara Renschen, Kelly Schnider, and Doug Shelton as Sade.
It was a terrific idea to split the verbose role of the Herald (or narrator) between St. Louis favorites Lavonne Byers and Terry Meddows. Freed from the constraint of so many words, Meddows is allowed to romp through the evening. At the outset he is a Phiz illustration from Charles Dickens' Pickwick Paperscome to life. But as the show proceeds and he loses control of what few wits he possesses, Meddows reminds one of a late-night movie where the sound is out of sync with the actors' lips. Here, Meddows' addled brain is at odds with his mouth. By evening's end he becomes pitiful and terrifying. This manic, ultimately seditious performance alone justifies a visit to Soulard.