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The Theatergoer Maral/Sade Thursday through Saturday at Adams House

By David R. Ignatius

I LIKED Maral/Sade very much and feel compelled to say that it makes Paradise Note look like I Am Curious Yellow.

In a sense, Maral/Sade is a Manichean morality play. There are forces of good and evil, but they move impartially through all of the characters. As Sade says in an epilogue, he wished to test great propositions and their opposites but they all seem colored and half-true by the end of the play, and thus if nothing else, the play makes a brilliant statement of the mixed nature of men's souls. Good and evil. Playwright Peter Wiess wisely refuses to sort out clear alternatives, or declare a final winner. The script gives only vague clues as to whether Weiss feels kin to Marit's revolutionary idealism ("against Nature's silence. I use action. In the vast indifference. I invent a meaning") or to Sade's philosophically gloomy individualism.

The current Adams House production definitely takes up Maral's revolutionary standard, but this is almost by default. Sade is very poorly played, and lacks any emotional definition. Andrew Apter gambols through all of Sade's lines, including descriptions of unimaginable tortures, with the same cherubic smile. John McKean is better as Marat, but he too fails to give much emotional content to his character's "persecution and assassination." McKean is in "real life" a member of the Worker-Student Alliance, and may have purposely shied from developing the ambiguities and existential isolation that Weiss wrote into the character. As with Apter's Sade, we see in Marat, ideas in relief rather than the man himself.

So the meat of the play as it is scripted-the interplay of Sade's world view and Marat's-comes off poorly. The abstract discussions of what the revolution was about, where and why it failed. and what the failures mean about mankind. remain abstract. unembodied in subtler means of expression. What makes this production so fine are the performances of the lesser characters-the inmates... "the people" in metaphor. These roles are largely non-verbal, and Director Charles Bernstein has achieved with his very raw staging (no lights, props, or costumes, and no raised stage) a Grotowski energy level without accenting his particular techniques for achieving that level, as the Loeb production of Three Sisters tended to do.

IN THE same way, Bernstein has used the audience confrontation of the Living Theatre without its self-conscious awareness of its own method. Audience confrontation is important, not in-itself or for-itself, but within the context of the theatrical illusion, which, in this most metaphorical work, Bernstein and his cast have wisely chosen to grant. At the close of the first act, the inmates march toward the audience singing "Marat we're poor and the poor stay poor. Marat don't make us wait anymore. We want our rights, and we don't care how. We want a revolution now." And the music stops and the cast is inches from the first row, staring at people in the audience; Bernstein's directions were to stare "longingly-longing for everything you ever wanted in life." A girl in the cast looked into the eyes of a girl in the audience. A huge tear formed in her right eye and rolled oh so slowly and beautifully all the way down her cheek. The girl in the audience was crying too, and I suppose you could call that confrontation. Aesthetic distance, or more truly, the need to talk about it, disappeared to nothing.

Marat/Sade moves through different contexts of reality. It is a play about a play in which psychotics (Marat is played by a paranoiac who is in turn played by John Mckean) act out Sade's own recreation of the Revolution. Occasionally one can get lost somewhere in between the levels. To this, Bernstein has added a particular jolt by having William Liller, Master of Adams House, play Coulmier, Master of the Charenton asylum. Liller is a natural.

For me, the most exciting thing about the production was the way it approached the metaphysical interplay of Marat and Sade. They are treated almost as pure dialectical forms (the lack of personality, in the two helps here). The struggle of the two theses moves with the dialogue into the minds of each member of the audience. They wage war; the dialectical revolution, spoken of in the play as "the revolution which burns up everything in blinding brightness, will only last as long as a lighting flash,"

THAT lightning flash is the dialectical synthesis of the opposing forces. In terms of the play, if the struggle of the two is the hinge on which the play turns, then a synthesis could come only after the play's scripted close. For it must be qualitatively a different experience; on a higher level than either of the original opposites.

And as Marat/Sade ends, it becomes a mesh of bodies on the floor, bodies of audience and cast, hugging, or talking theory, or simply savoring the flash. What's important is that the synthesis, the resolution of the two opposing abstractions, lies in the interpersonal concrete relations of people rather than back in the intellectual wilderness.

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