Monday, November 15, 2004

Play Review (Rachel)

Rachel Moe

The title of 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, is about as difficult to say as it is to deconstruct. The infinite array of signifiers in this post-structuralist play lend themselves to various interpretations, one interpretation not favored over another. Although the play occurs during the French Revolution, parallels can be made between the play and various past and present events. For example, the cultural revolution of the 1960’s parallels the madness of the characters and the search for “reality”. The criticism of the bourgeois made by the inmates is as applicable today as during the French Revolution. Currently, the political climate in the U.S. is a mixture of distinguishing between classes, name-calling, and exertions of power.

A variety of post-structuralist themes can be seen throughout the play, some of which include power, politics, simulation and sexual objectification. Power is a main theme in the play and is exhibited through how the social orders are arranged. Socially constructed notions of power are brought into question through the interesting power arrangements. The bourgeois think they have power over the lower class and come to watch the entertaining antics of the inmates. The Marquis de Sade and the inmates have power over the bourgeois using the play to direct criticisms at them. Marat is powerful in some senses but powerless in others. He has intellectual power that he uses to try to affect changes in society, although his skin disease makes him physically powerless, as he has to remain in his bathtub. The guards have authority and exert it throughout the play, beating the inmates with clubs and punishing those who get out of hand. It is interesting because traditionally the arrangement of an asylum would give the inmates a sense of “how” they should behave and what is appropriate behavior for madmen. The arrangement of this particular asylum does the opposite, and allows the inmates to act out the behaviors of their assigned characters. They are given power to “simulate” the behavior of their characters, as dictated by the Marquis de Sade. The sexually charged “orgy” at the end of the play breaks through the socially constructed views of power and parallels the sexual revolution of the 1960’s. Everyone is sexually objectified; even the bourgeois cannot escape it.

For me, the most intriguing part of this experience is our role as the “audience.” The actor’s interactions with us allow us to become a part of the madness and not just covert observers. We are pulled into this simulation of the French Revolution created by a man in an asylum (Marquis de Sade) who projects his views of the world through insane people who get his message across to those who think they are in power (the bourgeois). You may think you have it all figured out, yet every turn taken in this play leads you in a completely different direction in your thoughts. The beauty of this post-structuralist drama is that you do not know what is real, and you try to make sense out of a senseless world through the analysis of crazy people.


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