Photo: Marianne Duval
Director James Richardson has given us, as his thesis for an MFA in Directing at the University of Ottawa, a creative, focused and altogether compelling interpretation of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade.
The insane asylum that Richardson and his cast of student actors conjure is a fevered and dangerous place, a bubbling pot of injustice and brutality that constantly threatens to boil over.
Except for Charlotte Corday (Emma Hickey) – the narcoleptic who rouses herself long enough to murder Marat (Jeremie Cyr-Cooke), the revolutionary idealist with a really bad case of the itches, as he rests in his bath – the stage seethes and jitters with the non-stop twitches and outbursts of the patients. If ever there was a warning to iron-fisted leaders, whether they be political, cultural or of any other stripe, that repression has a limited shelf life, this is it.
The production is also sometimes very funny, your laughter in the face of the patients’ misery and the larger social convulsions they represent initially causing the squirm-worthy discomfort that Weiss intended and which is nothing compared to the agony of these patients.
There are some strong performances here including Annik Walsh as the Commedia dell Arte-styled Herald and Julie Malenfant as Marat’s disassociated nurse Simonne Evard. In fact, Malenfant’s silences and stillness point up the one major flaw in Richardson’s production: its fevered pace cries out for a few more of those quiet, subtle moments in which actors dig deeply rather than just emoting loudly to render meaning and evoke audience response.
With its sprawling cast and play-within-a-play structure, its mix of horror, humour and pathos, and the absence of redemption, Marat/Sade is a difficult show that makes major demands on everyone from performers and designers to audience members. Richardson ensures those demands are met.