Don’t get too used to the civility that precedes Christopher McElroen’s revival of Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade. After you’ve been greeted by a well-heeled trio outside the theater, you’re plunged into the Asylum of Charenton where the inmates are preparing to present a history of French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat as written by the Marquis de Sade. Behind chain-link fencing, the all-male cast, many nude, don institutional jumpsuits. It’s clear you’re in for a wild ride with this sprawling philosophical play that provides few answers for the questions it raises about the nature of man and revolution.
In actuality, the philosophical debate of Marat/Sade becomes secondary to McElroen’s hyper-kinetic environmental staging, which undeniably pays tribute to Peter Brook’s original. As inmates are hosed down, vomit flows, and at one point Sade (T. Ryder Smith) smears himself with what appears to be feces. McElroen brings the brutality of the asylum—and by extension the brutality of our world—to life. But there’s a cost: Often, neither Smith nor Nathan Hinton’s Marat can be heard, particularly as inmates scream and rattle the fence. Ultimately, exhaustion sets in, and you begin to long for the interruptions from Eric Walton’s commanding Herald, who, as narrator, manages to restore some much-needed decorum to what should not only be visceral, but intellectual, proceedings.