Marat/Sade, Peter Weiss' acclaimed work on war, class struggle and social discontent, is the second play I ever saw. That was in 1968, when the United States was preoccupied with some power-structure challenges of its own. The show's themes resonated big-time on my local college campus, where it was staged-suddenly, live theater was the universal cathartic for American ills at home and abroad.
I didn't know at the time that Marat is also a neat performance exercise, with its vigorous music and movement and its youthful, edgy take on social order. UCSD's Department of Theatre and Dance apparently agrees, because it's chosen the play as its spring production. This show is pretty low-key as Marat goes, but it's a sobering, serviceable piece, peppered with rhetoric that's launched legendary all-night college gabfests on the totalitarian slant.
More important, its French Revolution setting is a metaphor for modern social disillusionment, easily recalling the Vietnam era and the antiwar movement's unchanneled fervor. With the cantankerousness of an Abbie Hoffman, lead character Jean-Paul Marat (Steven Lone) speaks for all insurrectionists in the play's most telling passage.
"We invented the revolution," he grouses, "but we don't know how to use it."
The full title-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-gives you an idea of the dialogue parade to come. The inmates are at their most vociferous as the marquis (Gregory Malcolm Moore) shepherds them through the true story of Marat's murder in 1793, 15 years before. The marquis defends those glorious days, when enemies of the totalitarian status quo were dismembered like cattle, molten metals poured into their wounds.
The equally ruthless Marat was a player in the socialist Paris Commune, thus the marquis' delight in his fatal stabbing. Killer Charlotte Corday (Analeis Lorig) thought she was doing Louis XVI a favor by offing a petty tyrant. But in a turn of poetic justice beyond the play's end, Corday-who claimed nobility herself-would be guillotined for her crime by Louis' court.
Director Stefan Novinski has a reasonable handle on the speeches; rarely does the show's oratorical flavor get preachy. Novinski's sidestepped the look-how-hip-we-are-'cause-we're-setting-the-show-in-modern-dress trap. This period show wisely lets the audience draw parallels between eras without sartorial comment.
Occasionally, war is the answer-but this Marat decries government's disposition toward it. It's all the more watchable amid its intimacy, its minstrels coloring the dreariness with the savvy of Shakespearean fools. And the fact it takes place in a mental facility speaks volumes on its own.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of May 12. Marat/Sade runs through May 21 at the Sheila and Hughes Potiker Theatre, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla. $10-$15. 858-534-4574.
Past is prologue
It's almost 7 o'clock, and Verne (Rhona Gold) doesn't know what to do. This is her first date since, like, the McKinley administration. As if that isn't bad enough, the catty women around her have all the answers about what she can expect.
Viburnum, the current Fritz Theatre production at 6th@Penn Theatre and a Fritz Blitz award winner from last year, is also a wayside plant Verne likes. It gets curiously little mention in San Diegan Doug Field's text-meanwhile, Verne's lone monologue backs us into the action, and the development is disjointed in a few spots. But the characters are solid, and there's some really nice portrayal here-director Katie Rodda has the actors at ju-u-u-ust below farce level, where they belong.
Verne is the only character with a name, and her relationship to the others is never explained. You'll find out why in the last three minutes of the play. Then you'll go, "Cool show!"
Viburnum runs through June 12 at 6th@Penn Theatre, 3704 Sixth Ave., Hillcrest. $18-$21. 619-688-9210.