Jackie Leahy ’14
Director Emma Weinstein’s ’13 production of Peter Weiss’ 1963 musical Marat/Sade premieres this weekend at Smith in Hallie Flanagan Theater. The play centers on inmates who act out the narrative of the French Revolution – an event of the recent past – and culminates in Jean-Paul Marat’s assassination. Traditionally set in post-revolutionary France and with a cast that is mostly male, Weinstein decided to set the play in a Juvenile Detention center for girls, inspired by her own all-female cast and her interest in “the work that’s being done to alter the juvenile justice system in which an overwhelming number of our youth in this country are being put into juvenile detention centers – places that are underfunded, do not offer enough therapy and substance abuse programs and do not help these kids at all.”
Rebecca Holtz ’14J, who plays an incarcerated 17-year-old named Kerry who has been cast in the role of Jean-Paul Marat said that while she has “never had an experience even close to what these women go through … the themes of revolution and oppression are as applicable to contemporary struggles as they were both in Marat’s era and the first time this show was produced. History repeats itself: the themes of socioeconomic struggle are especially relevant to current events.” While current, this political backdrop may seem irrelevant to the daily lives of Smith students. To Weinstein, there is a second valuable reason for staging this play now at Smith College.
“We don’t usually talk about violence among women,” said Weinstein. “But it’s something we really need to look at, especially at Smith.”
The role of the infamous Marquis de Sade, one of the play’s central characters and the man after whom the word “sadism” is derived, has been reinvented into Kathryn, the female, incarcerated equivalent of Sade, played by Camilla Skalski ’15.
The experience “taught me a lot about boundaries and not taking the work that I do on the stage home with me,” said Skalski. “This play has a lot of moments of extreme and scary emotion and at the end of the day, I have to leave that on the stage. I have however started to view the world from a decidedly more Sade way; everything seems sexual to me. He was all about sex.”
Given that one of the numbers – not included in the final version of the play – is entitled ‘the Copulation Round,’ it might be tempting to see Marat/Sade as a comedic romp. Meaghan Lydon ’13, whose roles in Smith theater have included Henry V, Lady Macbeth and Pantalone in Servant of Two Masters, and who plays Charlotte Corday, the assassin of Jean-Paul Marat in Marat/Sade, attests to the opposite.
“As far as differing from other plays I’ve done, this play is by far the darkest,” she said. “Its difficult subject matter and elaborate ensemble work required not only a much longer, intensive rehearsal process than is usual for this theater department, but it has been something of an emotionally draining process – in the best of senses! Plus, it’s a musical!”
The audience is immersed in more than the sights and the sounds of the play.
“The audience does not watch the play – they live it. They aren’t looking at a set representing a juvenile detention facility – they’re inside of one. They aren’t watching people create a revolution in front of them – they’re a part of it,” said Lydon.
Marat/Sade premieres tomorrow at 8 p.m. It will also run on Saturday, March 2 and on March 7–9, also at 8 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and seniors and $3 for Smith students (with Smith ID at the Box Office only).