İzmir avant-garde theater opens season with murder of Marat

İzmir avant-garde theater opens season with murder of Marat

Nazlan Ertan - İZMİR
İzmir avant-garde theater opens season with murder of Marat One-woman plays are risky business – particularly when they aim to condense a complicated play within a play that addresses many different concepts, such as revolution, civil disobedience, murder and insanity.

However, a group of young actors from İzmir known as Praxis Perform have managed to create a one-hour performance out of one of the most difficult plays of the 1960s by Peter Weiss, “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,” usually shortened to “Marat/Sade.” At a time when the 60s spirit of rebellion, dissent and independence has been remembered with Bob Dylan’s Nobel Literature Prize award, the play by the German-Swiss writer is another reminder of the “aesthetics of resistance.”

Imagine the Marquis de Sade deciding to put on a play while locked in the Charenton mental hospital. He writes and directs the other mental health patients in a play based on the death of Jean-Paul Marat, the unrelenting, single-minded architect of the French Revolution. As “Marat/Sade” progresses, the inmates become more and more possessed by the violence of the play and become extremely difficult to control. Then hell breaks loose. With its long dialogues, moments of “crazy range,” and long list of characters, the play is not one for popular taste. A 1967 movie inspired by the play, with its cast of strong Shakespearean actors - featuring Ian Richardson as Marat and Glenda Jackson as his murderer Charlotte Corday - was received positively by high-brow critics but had little popular success.

“Marat/Sade” had a revival at the turn of the 21st century. In 2011, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged it with Marat as a modern digital revolutionary and Charlotte Corday wearing terrorist garb. In this version, the asylum head presided over events, controlling the inmates with a smartphone. The reviews were once again lukewarm.

Praxis Perform’s version loses many of the trimmings related to the asylum. The adaptation by Ant Aksan, titled “Jean-Paul Marat,” focuses on the futility of the revolution and the continuity of repression and oppression through religion.

The actress Ayşegül Sünetçioğlu, with dark circles painted under her eyes and disconnected gestures shaking her body, combines the zeal of the angry crowd with the abandonment of a true lunatic against the backdrop of a minimalistic stage – with just a red and white couch that resembles a bath-tub. In this one-woman play, she switches back and forth between the single-minded and ever-itchy Marat, the acid-tongued and pleasure-seeking Marquis de Sade, and Charlotte Corday, the naive and girlish murderess. Her face is toils with ever-changing emotions that range between a mad man’s sneer and a do-gooder’s shy smile, while her body is an automaton of scary gestures. The 35-year-old actress gives an eerie performance as she screams: “The same enemies of 1793 - war profiteers, religious bigots, and capitalist overlords - also prosper in 1808. They prosper all the time. We are tired of suffering, Marat!”

Speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, Sünetçioğlu described the play as “timeless.”

“When condensing the original two-and-a-half hours, we picked up the themes that were relevant to the audience today – nationalism, the relationship between the ruling elite and the people, sexual violence, the Republic, censorship and authoritarianism,” Sünetçioğlu said. 

“My favorite line is uttered by Marat to the people: ‘When they slap your shoulder and tell you there are no social differences any more, do not believe them. Be careful, for they are trying to send you to war to protect their interests.’ With that tone we conclude the play,” she added.