Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade Pushed the Boundaries of Theater, and Still Does

This 1967 film adap­ta­tion of Peter Weiss’s play Marat/Sade (its full 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) is based on the play’s famous 1964 the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion by the Roy­al Shake­speare Com­pa­ny. Trans­lat­ed from Ger­man by Geof­frey Skel­ton and direct­ed by Peter Brook, the RSC pro­duc­tion starred Patrick Magee as de Sade, Clive Revill as Marat, and Glen­da Jack­son as Char­lotte Cor­day, Marat’s killer. The orig­i­nal cast and direc­tor from the ’64 stag­ing came togeth­er for the film in 1967, with Ian Richard­son step­ping into the role of Marat. It’s a jar­ring expe­ri­ence, with mas­ter­ful per­for­mances and some very dark humor.

The play imag­ines the Mar­quis de Sade in 1808, fif­teen years after the French Rev­o­lu­tion, stag­ing the death of Jacobin hero Jean-Paul Marat as a play and enlist­ing as actors his fel­low inmates at the Char­en­ton Asy­lum, where de Sade was con­fined from 1801 to his death in 1814, and where he did, in fact, write and direct plays. The film is essen­tial view­ing for fans of con­fronta­tion­al Brecht­ian Ver­frem­dungsef­fekt­ (dis­tanc­ing or alien­ation effects) and the dizzy­ing device of sus­tained mise en abyme. Marat/Sade still unset­tles the­ater audi­ences near­ly 50 years after its first pro­duc­tion. The RSC recent­ly revived the play at their new­ly-refur­bished the­ater in Strat­ford and sent sev­er­al audi­ence mem­bers flee­ing; at one pre­view, 80 the­ater­go­ers left at the inter­mis­sion. Wher­ev­er and when­ev­er Marat/Sade is per­formed, it offers a brac­ing cri­tique of polit­i­cal vio­lence with its unspar­ing depic­tions of mad­ness, tor­ture, and rev­o­lu­tion­ary fer­vor.

via Mefi

Josh Jones is cur­rent­ly a doc­tor­al stu­dent in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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