Bismarck State College will explore the "whole idea of revolution" during its spring musical.
“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” first became popular in the ’60s. Peter Weiss wrote “Marat/Sade.”
Director Daniel Rogers has been at BSC for 22 years. He first directed “Marat/Sade” close to 40 years ago at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont., as his first professional theater job.
“At the time it was the wildest, most exciting and most controversial play around,” Rogers said. “It transformed how theater was done.”
The plot of the play is complex, provocative and intriguing. Essentially, the inmates of an 1800 asylum for the insane act out a play written about the French Revolution.
“The premise for the play is brilliant,” Rogers said. “The main eight or nine roles are all major figures from just the messiest, bloodiest revolution ever, maybe.”
“Marat/Sade” reflects on the idea of revolution through two very extreme views. It explores the ways in which humanity tries to alter itself, and how those choices impact history. Marat believes in change through violence, while De Sade believes transformation is only possible by each individual’s resolve to do so first with themselves.
“The play then explores the whole idea of revolution,” Rogers said. “How does humanity go about trying to transform itself?”
The audience experience will be very different from that of realistic theater. The cast will be involving and addressing the audience, and the show’s machinery and lighting that is normally hidden will be visible. Rogers says that his cast will use nearly every theatrical device to deliver their message.
“He (Weiss) really thinks and believes that theater affects, defines and changes society. It can be used as a political tool to build awareness; to make people think. And in order to make people think, they can’t be involved moment to moment to moment. You have to disrupt that. You want them to be very aware that they’re watching a play,” Rogers said. “It breaks all the rules and conventions of realistic theater, which is what we’re all used to.”
In addition to the intricacy of the script, Rogers is adding a modern twist. Not only will each actor be an asylum inmate and a figure in the French Revolution, but they also will be a edgy, punk version of themselves.
“The play takes place simultaneously in 2014, 1808 and 1793,” Rogers said. “It’s a wonderful challenge. Challenges are what make us grow. The challenge for the actor is to live on all three levels within the show.”
Before the show takes place, all actors are required to be seen and talking with the audience, when normally they are told to do the opposite. Rogers said one purpose of adding the third level was to help the actors understand and relate to the script.
“Every time we’ve made an adjustment to bring in the whole punk aspect they just exploded with ideas and creativity. That they get,” Rogers said. “It’s not the easy way to do it. If that clicks and works it’s gong to be the most exciting production I’ve worked on ever.”
Despite the seriousness of some of the concepts in “Marat/Sade,” Rogers says there’s plenty of room for humor.
“We are injecting it with as much as we can find,” Rogers said. “We’re having a blast.”
Rogers chose “Marat/Sade” this past October for different reasons, one being how significantly the play’s message applies to current political conflicts.
“For the past 40 years this play perhaps more than any play I’ve ever been involved in has stuck with me because of its relevancy year after year, day after day, moment after moment. It keeps coming up,” Rogers said. “I think it would really strike a chord now because the revolutions going on around the world, and the United States is poised to get involved in several more.”
Rogers’ son did three tours in Iraq and was wounded. He says that is what ultimately made him decide on “Marat/Sade.”
“The purpose of the whole show is to in some ways shock people into an awareness of their situation,” Rogers said. “It’s a very strong pull, but revolution is a very bloody, messy business. And sometimes we don’t know who we are helping. It asks us to think about these things and to make up our own minds somewhere between these two extremes that Marat and Sade represent.”
Although there is no bad language or nudity, Rogers recommends parental guidance. “Marat/Sade” will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Sidney J. Lee Auditorium. Tickets are $10, and can be reserved by calling the box office at 224-5511.
“It’s new, it’s exciting, it’s edgy, it has this innovative take in terms of adding contemporary punk culture to it. So I’m after that young audience who isn’t afraid of this kind of thing,” Rogers said. “We’re noted for doing kind of cutting-edge stuff, but this is way up there.”