Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review of UP Dulaang Laboratoryo's MARAT/SADE: Mutiny in a Madhouse

May 5, 2019

The full title of this play is very imposing -- "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." It was first written in German by Peter Weiss in 1963, with an English translation by Geoffrey Skelton in 1964. For ease, it was also known as "Marat/Sade."

Some intrepid Theater students of UP Diliman chose this intense material to be their thesis production. They are: Joy Cerro (for Direction), Hariette Damole (for Acting) and Rowel Pasion Cristobal (for Costume Design). 

The Filipino translation of the play which was staged by these students this weekend was written by Gio Potes (who is also the dramaturgist) and the very prolific Guelan Luarca. The title in Filipino sounds even more formidable -- "Ang Pag-Uusig at Pagpaslang kay Jean-Paul Marat ayon sa Pagkakatanghal ng mga Pasyente sa Asilo ng Charenton sa Ilalaim ng Direksyon ni Marquis de Sade." 

The director of the Charenton Asylum for the mentally ill, Mr. Coulmier, had commissioned the Marquis de Sade (who was really confined in an insane asylum for three years in real life) to write and direct a play about the brutal 1793 assassination of French journalist / politician Jean-Paul Marat (whose skin malady confined him to his home's bathtub at that time) by a woman of opposite political convictions, Charlotte Corday. The play was to be performed by the various mentally-disturbed patients of the asylum.

The Calm Before the Storm

An eerie atmosphere of human madness pervaded the entire Tanghalang Hermogenes Ylagan the moment you enter the room. The stage (designed by Io Balanon) was at the center of the round of chairs and bleachers, converted into a white bathroom floor of the mental hospital, with the famous bathtub in one corner. The tub is quarter-filled with water, so there is a risk for people seated near it to get wet when the water gets splashed around in the course of the play. A number of insane patients were on the doing their own thing in various parts of the floor.

The play started when Eraldo (Khen del Prado) entered the room with his bell and staff, and announced the arrival of the playwright and director, the Marquis de Sade, and their sponsor Mr. Coulmier (Jacques Borlaza) who came in to watch with his wife (Adrianna Agcaoili) and daughter (Veronica Fortuna).  Eraldo also introduced the main characters of the play -- the passionate writer Jean-Paul Marat, his dutiful wife Simonne, and the lovely Girondist assassin, Charlotte Corday.  Rowel Pasion Cristobal's period costumes brought us back in time to 18th century France. 

Sade (Cayabyab) confronts Marat (Soriano)

Jojo Cayabyab was a very intense and forceful Marquis de Sade, with sheer sadistic madness reflecting from his eyes. Xander Soriano spent practically the whole play shirtless, in linen ruffled shorts, declaiming his political convictions while soaked in the tub. Sheryl Ceasico's Simonne was always fully in character, silently and repetitively wiping Marat with her towels, ever at his beck and call. Hariette Damole's Charlotte was a quiet, withdrawn sort, with her eyes coming to life whenever she got her hands on the dagger hidden in her bosom. 

The most notable among the supporting actors were Chris Abecia as the explosively violent Jacques Roux (with the face straps and straitjacket ala Hannibal Lecter) and Io Balanon as the cannibalistic sex maniac Duperret (with that fearsome lascivious leer on his face). Among the singing "ladies", it was Auriz Judaver (as Rossignol) who stood out because of his soaring vocals, as well his whistling during one dramatic scene. Among the nameless patients, it was Nico Labrador who caught attention with his distinctive full body tremors and his powerful monologue which he nailed.

Corday (Damole) and Duperret (Balanon) at Marat's door

Remember that all the "actors" (including the director himself) of the make-believe play were insane, so the play within this play took on a noisy, chaotic and most unpredictable character. The delivery of the lines also had various degrees of derangement -- from the monotone of the depressed, to the over-the-top of the outright psychotic. There were two "nurses" (Kiko dela Paz and Roi Cacnio) who were trying to keep their patients in check. 

There were a number of scenes with a heightened feel of insanity it can make your skin crawl. It is very difficult to pull off horror in a play, but director Joy Cerro faced the challenge full-on, taking full advantage of the intimate setting. With lights by Jethro Nibaten and music by Jack Alvero, Cerro brought us all through a very realistic experience of sickening and terrifying madness. 

While there seemed to be timely political messages being declared, I honestly could not concentrate of those pronouncements, as the feeling of dread and terror overcame me first. This play was definitely unnerving, unsettling and scary, even when the lights were fully on. That climactic scene of shocking bloody full-blown Grand Guignol horror, ended with me genuinely fearing for my own life. When the lights turn back on, then the political metaphors and implications squarely hit you, and hard.

The Grisly Aftermath

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