ECHO of the Revolution

The witty, wise Marat/Sade: No election year would be complete without it


Soulard Theatre, 1921 South Ninth Street

"Madness! Madness!" the grief-stricken doctor cries out at the end of The Bridge on the River Kwai after that proud structure has been blown to smithereens, and everyone -- attacker and attacked alike -- lies dead among the rubble.

And how are you going to commemorate the third anniversary of 9/11? You could do a lot worse than to ponder the madness that is the lunatic, bedlam world of Marat/Sade.

For the record, the official title of Peter Weiss' landmark play-within-a-play 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. On the surface anyway, that is precisely what it's about. In a clinic in 1808, Sade stages a play with a cast of fellow inmates that depicts the 1792 murder of politician Marat during the bloody French Revolution. Marat/Sade, a provocative blend of theatricality and ideas, absorbs the eye as it challenges the mind. The play appeals to the senses and the intellect alike as it explores both the need for revolutionary change and man's inability to cope with such change.

When Marat/Sade exploded on Broadway nearly 40 years ago in 1965, jolted audiences soon realized that this "historical" play was actually political theater. It demanded that people, regardless of their views, not remain silent about the Vietnam War. Only through dialogue, the play argued, could the war's moral and political issues be understood.

In ensuing decades, as the horrors of that war began to recede, the play lost some of that immediacy. But it may well be that ECHO Theatre is reviving it at exactly the right time. With a critical presidential election kicking into full swing, an exciting Marat/Sade -- and this production, with a cast of 30, promises to be that -- could be as politically charged as Fahrenheit 9/11.

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