UNO Theatre ends revolutionary season with “Marat/Sade”

Photo courtesy of UNO Theatre
UNO Theatre’s final production of the year, “Marat/Sade,” closes the season with a prison riot.
Danielle Meadows

Closing out UNO Theatre’s season, “Marat/Sade” adds another layer to the theme of revolution.

“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” (often shortened to “Marat/Sade”) highlights a collision between individualism and rebellion in a setting where madness and reason seem indivisible.

The script was written by German dramatist and novelist Peter Weiss in 1963. As the son of a textile manufacturer who was Jewish by origin but Christian by conversion, his family was forced into exile in 1934 by Nazi persecution. After living in England, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia, Weiss settled in Sweden in 1939. While his early works are published in Swedish, he later transitioned to writing in German.

First performed in West Berlin in 1964, “Marat/Sade” quickly brought Weiss notoriety. British director Peter Brook helped turn the play into a cultural icon by staging it at Royal Shakespeare Theatre in London, then creating a film version in 1967.

Set in the historical Charenton Asylum, “Marat/Sade” acts as a play within a play. There are two very different historical figures at its center—Jean-Paul Marat, a writer and leading intellectual of the revolution—and Marquis de Sade, a writer and inmate, with an obsession of sex, violence and pain. The word “sadism” is derived from his name.

Inmates become actors when directed by de Sade, with others occasionally stepping in to restore order. Coulmier, the asylum’s director, supervises the performance. As a supporter of Napoleon’s post-revolutionary government during the time of the production, he believes the play to be an endorsement of his patriotic views. His patients, however, have other ideas. “Marat/Sade” is a depiction of class struggle and human suffering, asking questions about whether true revolution comes from changing oneself or changing society.

While the script is set in a French asylum in 1808, UNO Theatre’s production brings the play to modern day. Taking place in 2018, inmates are instead locked in a medium-security prison. “Marat/Sade” not only features acting, but singing as well with the largest cast that’s been on stage during the 2017-2018 theater season. The play is directed by graduate student Lara Marsh and Dr. Douglas Paterson, who is retiring in May after teaching at UNO for decades.

Trey Nielsen plays a prisoner in “Marat/Sade.” He appreciates Dr. Paterson’s commitment to theater and social justice. Working on this play has opened his eyes to the issues of mass incarceration.

“I feel like some of the content in the play raises awareness to things that are still going on,” Nielsen said. “As one of the largest percentages of minorities that are locked up today, it really makes me think of how we need to change.”

Thomas Sheridan also plays the role of a prisoner. The most challenging thing about getting into his character was the amount of physical work and having to reciprocate it at every rehearsal.

“I’ve learned how to work with such a large and varied cast to make something beautiful,” Sheridan said.

“Marat/Sade” is a bookend to a season focused on history, individuality and community. Theater professor Scott Glasser talked with The Gateway last year, describing “Marat/Sade” as “otherworldly,” with nothing quite like it.

“Essentially, we’re starting and ending with plays that change the conversation of theater—and not just in America,” Glasser said.

Previews for “Marat/Sade” will be April 11-12 with performances April 13-14 and 18-21 in the UNO Theatre, located in the Weber Fine Arts Building. The house opens at 7 p.m. with a 7:30 p.m. curtain for all performances. For previews, tickets are $5 for all audiences. For performances, tickets are $16 for all audiences. Tickets are free for UNO students who present a valid ID.