One of the last live shows I saw before the world closed down last year was Bare Theatre’s production of 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. So it seems fitting that one of my first shows back post-COVID, in-person and masked, is the St. John’s Metropolitan Community Church’s latest incarnation.
Once again Dustin Britt expertly guides his cast in swerving precariously between performing their roles as inmates of the Charenton asylum in Peter Weiss’ contemporary play and acting out the Marquis de Sade’s play within a play. The aforementioned de Sade play recounts the murder of Jean-Paul Marat in 1793 by Charlotte Corday. This duplexity succeeds in underscoring the question of who is really in control.
The sanctuary of St. John’s MCC serves as an appropriate performance space with the audience situated on either side of the stage area and close to the actors. Location aside, the creative team, along with Britt, keeps the play grounded in the world of the Charenton asylum and the atmosphere tense and edgy.
Most of the original cast has returned to reprise their roles in this production, yet this version feels a bit bolder and more intense than the first. Jennifer Daly reprises her role as the asylum director, Coulmier, adroitly (yet barely) managing to keep the Marquis’ chaos at bay. Simon Kaplan shines as the shimmery, manipulative, cross-dressing Marquis de Sade.
Rosemary Richards reprises her role as Charlotte Corday and has dug even deeper into the character than before, while Germona Sharp as the fiery priest Jacques Roux, finds even more passion in her role. Douglas Kapp’s as the couplet-rhyming Herald is thoroughly engaging as was the performance of Jill Cromwell, a sexually deviant inmate and the preening Duperret. Rachel Pottern Nunn convincingly teeters on the edge of reality in the role of Simonne Evrard, Marat’s mistress and caretaker.
But it is Natalie Sherwood’s Marat that dominates the proceedings, especially as the philosophical debates with de Sade unfold. These interactions charge the atmosphere and incite the inmates to an unexpected resolve.
And it is these debates between Marat and Sade that seem to resonate and encapsulate much of what we’ve witnessed and endured over the past 18 months, rendering Peter Weiss’ play more prescient than ever.