Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Eerie "Marat" at the Hanna Deeply Moving Experience

Cleveland Press October 14, 1967

The mentally twisted and the physically deformed, their tongues hanging, eyes wide and unfocused, mouths slobbering, limbs twisted in the grotesque patterns of the spastic -- these are the creatures who fill the stage with unending movement in the play that opened at the Hanna last night,

The name of it 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." The full title pretty well summarizes the play.

"MARAT/SADE" is a play within a play. The inmates of an asylum are about to give a play as part of their therapy and for their amusement. The author is an inmate, the Marquis de Sade, from whose name the word sadism is derived.

The inner play is about the leader in the French revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, and his assassination at the hands of Charlotte Corday.

Through his characters playwright Peter Weiss expounds his philosophy on a number of things -- on pacifism, war, revolution, the rich and the poor.

IT IS A POLEMICAL play, but whatever intellectual message Weiss intends is often lost in a circus of sights and sounds.

It is to the players' credit that there is not an inconsistent moment in their portrayals of the insane. But as a background to quiet, thoughtful conversation it is not unlike a fireworks display.

It is as a total theatrical experience rather than as a dissertation on any particular subject that "Marat/Sade" scores. It is a vibrant mixture of prose, verse and music (it has 13 musical numbers), of spectacle and effects.

IT IS THEATER that is alive, that drags the audience into its midst. Part of its fascination is the fascination of horror.

There is the choreographed movement of people crawling and stumbling about the stage, beating the wooden floor with chains. There is the pantomime of the excesses of the mob, their savagery, their joy in beheadings.

Some of this spectacle spills over into mere coarseness, and one suspects the excess of vulgarities is the groping for shock effects.

ROBERT FIELDS is an in tense, deep feeling Marat. William Roerick gives stature to the role of de Sade, but is somewhat cold as he speaks of his obsession with death. The cast is uniformly excellent, working out their roles individually yet working together.

The fact that they do work together is undoubtedly a tribute to director Donald Driver, once of Musicarnival now of Broadway. His background as a choreographer is apparent in taking his characters through movements that are really grotesque dances.

AS A MUSICAL, which no one calls it, this play has some interesting tunes. One number, "Poor Old Marat," has a sturdy beat.

Whatever Weiss' arguments in this play -- expounded mostly by Marat and de Sade -- they are rather carefully balanced and the result is often a draw.

They are also lost in a spectacle which at times is exciting but which finally bludgeons the senses.