Judith Newmark – St. Louis Post Dispatch, August 4, 2014
Theatergoers at “Quills“, Doug Wright’s strange and thoughtful play about the Marquis de Sade, may be pleased to discover how much they laugh at something that takes place, after all, in an 18th-century madhouse. They may be less surprised, and perhaps less pleased as well, when they find themselves gagging.
Director Brooke Edwards pushes the limit in this Max & Louie production, which confronts questions of taste, obviously, but also of humanity and trust. Fortunately she works with an actor as bold as she is.
Ted Gregory gives a fearless performance as the Marquis, one of the few people in history to give his name to an aberrant sexual practice. Coy and fairly ridiculous in his powdered wig and breeches, this Marquis continues to flirt, to argue and to behave as if he were in no way reduced after nearly everything is taken from him, starting with his clothes. Gregory spends much of the play nearly naked, a challenge on an ordinary stage. The Wool Studio Theatre, where the audience sits mere feet from the performers, ups the ante relentlessly. At least the performers are handsomely set apart from us, on Dunsi Dai’s rich set.
Rooted in but by no means confined to historical fact, Wright’s play finds the Marquis in the care of the asylum’s stern head doctor (David Wassilak) and a gentle priest (Antonio Rodriguez) who treats him with kindness. But the priest has allowed the Marquis to keep writing, disgracing his wealthy wife (Stacie Knock, whose over-the-top performance contrasts well with Wassilak’s severe reserve).
The priest worries about the Marquis’ effect on others, especially a naïve laundress (Caitlin Mickey), while the doctor is preoccupied with a lavish house, he’s hired an architect (Charlie Barron) to design for his faithless wife (Mickey again). But their famous patient always demands more attention.
Wright doesn’t shy away from his subject. Quoting the Marquis’ own words, Wright makes sure we understand that he isn’t merely naughty — he’s sick. For all his airs, his inability to distinguish between pleasure and pain finally reveals itself. (Not for children, the play could upset many adults as well.)
Ultimately, the priest feels compelled — or is willing? — to use harsher and harsher measures to hold the Marquis in check. What that does to him, a change Rodriguez reveals slowly, is Wright’s true subject in this cautionary tale, related with unstinting verve.