- The Washington Times - Friday, July 25, 2008

Change and whip cracks electrify the air in Forum Theatre’s production of “Marat/Sade,” teetering on the edge of madness under the direction of Michael Dove. Combining delirious visual imagery and an original score by Jesse Terrill, this musical retelling of the French Revolution makes you think the world might be better off if the lunatics ran the asylum.

German playwright Peter Weiss wrote the play (the complete title is “The Persecution and Assassination of Jean Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum at Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade“) in 1964, and the next year Peter Brooks directed a definitive production for the Royal Shakespeare Company that was made into a movie in 1967.

Mr. Dove and Mr. Terrill have added musical flourishes that veer sometimes into numbing repetition and elements of the carnival sideshow for their raucous take on anarchy and sadism.

That the notorious Marquis de Sade (Jonathon Church, mellifluous of voice and aristocratic in tone) would be putting on plays with crazies as actors has its basis in fact, since de Sade was imprisoned in Charenton Asylum for his pornographic writings in 1803 and was able to realize there, of all places, a lifelong dream to be a creator of theater.

“Marat/Sade” takes place in 1808, with de Sade overseeing his controversial work about the death of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat (Danny Gavigan), stabbed in the heart while in the bath by Charlotte Corday (Katy Carkuff). Insanity, more than the usual kind that befalls actors, rocks the cast.

Corday is a narcoleptic, Marat’s receiving hydrotherapy, and other lunatics suffer from tics, seizures and the halting speech that usually defines the heavily drugged.

The patients become more disturbed as the play progresses, with everything threatening to collapse into mayhem at any moment - rather like the fallout from political unrest itself. Along the way, de Sade and Mr. Weiss comment on the schism between the haves and the have-nots, how liberators can become oppressors and the persistence of suffering. To spice things up, de Sade throws in some asides about the pleasures of pain.

The heightened emotion and artifice of this play-within-a-play dovetail nicely with Forum Theatre’s emphasis on salient visuals and articulated movement.

The cast is disturbingly convincing as the asylum’s mental patients, especially Eric Messner as the twitchy and impassioned radical Jacques Roux, the sweetly drowsy Miss Carkuff as Corday, and Parker Dixon’s antsy, stalker performance as Corday’s lover.

As attention-grabbing and immediate as the Forum’s production is, it is wise to dress lightly and drink plenty of water to keep from sinking into a torpor.

The theater shuts off the noisy air conditioning during the play and by the second act, you can detect more than the scent of revolution floating about.

★★★

WHAT: “Marat/Sade” by Peter Weiss, translation by Geoffrey Skelton

WHERE: Forum Theatre at H Street Playhouse, 1365 H St. NE

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Aug. 10.

TICKETS: $15 to $20

PHONE: 202/489-1701

WEB SITE: wwww.forumtheatredc.org

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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