'Marat/Sade' brings postmodern art to Mac, finally

By Michael Richter

This Friday the Theatre and Dance Department will premier its much anticipated rendition of Peter Weiss’s “Marat/Sade,” a play known for its postmodern structure and provocative presentation. The production, which features a guest director and an original score, promises to be an artistic highlight of the spring semester.The play, “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,” premiered in 1964 in Berlin and takes place in the aftermath of the French Revolution. The main story concerns a group of poor asylum inmates who are forced to act in a play directed by the bourgeois Marquis de Sade. This “play within a play” takes place during the French Revolution, several years before the main story, and aims to endorse the director’s views on patriotism and class struggles. The audience spends most of the performance actually watching this production unfold. While the concept of revolution is the driving theme in the play, it also explores the role of artists, rhetoric, and religion as they relate to class struggles.

To do the work justice, Macalester found a director that shares the play’s postmodern vibe. Rachel Perlmeter is described as a “cross-media artist working in the interstitial spaces between theatre, dance, sound and installation art.” A Fulbright artist and International Theatre Institute fellow, her recent work includes collaboration with experimental theatres in Russia and developing a radio show devoted to experimental narrative techniques. Aside from her work at Macalester, she is currently working on a novel and an interdisciplinary investigation of the Ballets Russes. If this resume doesn’t say “postmodern,” I don’t know what does.

The production also features an original score by guest composer J. Anthony Allen. Like Perlmeter, Allen focuses both on combining different forms and exploring the sociological aspects of performance. In many ways his work is more a form of “sound exploration” than it is music, with heavy emphasis on electronics and non-traditional instruments. Chris Roberts from Minnesota Public Radio equated his work with an “aural hallucinogen.having a pleasurably disorienting, even slightly disturbing effect inside your head.” For “Marat/Sade,” Allen collaborated with Noah Keesecher and Joshua Clausen, both local multimedia composers with similar backgrounds in contemporary music. The play will feature a live group of actor/musicians performing their work.

Aside from the visiting artists, “Marat/Sade,” like all productions at Macalester, is primarily student driven. There are a total of sixteen students involved with the production, and senior Natalie Khuen designed the scenery. Performances will be held in the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center, Main Stage Theater, at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday Feb. 26-27 and Thurs.-Sat. March 4-6 and at 2 p.m. Sun., Feb. 28. For ticket information, call 651-696-6359.