Richard Green – Talkin’ Broadway, August 5, 2014
Is there a school district anywhere in this country that still doesn’t have its own “banned book” list? It almost seems inconceivable that a librarian could still lead your child to dangerous books about a couple of penguin dads and their hatchlings in this day and age, doesn’t it?
Your child. Books. Penguins. Think about it.
Then imagine something about a thousand times more shocking, and you’ve got Doug Wright’s genuinely horrifying comedy, which premiered in 1995. It’s the same sociological equation, but focusing on the infamous Marquis de Sade: a writer who tested the boundaries of popular taste, forcing the new democratic rulers of France to punish the artist in whatever manner seemed appropriate to the times.
As the Marquis, Ted Gregory is simply mind-boggling-shocking, hilarious, giddy, and utterly grotesque—in a stylish, delightful sort of way that makes him even more dangerous, I suppose. The Marquis is locked away in an insane asylum for his scandalous behavior, and he becomes the target of violent attempts to stop his outrageous writing career.
Ultimately, these punishments become even more horrifying than the writing itself. The shadow of the French Revolution hangs over everyone, and any sort of violence you could imagine is easily rationalized in the waning years of the 18th century.
The play, deliciously directed by Brooke Edwards, seems a little over-the-top at first, until the Marquis comes on in the second or third scene. He’s even more outlandish than the others (by a mile), which brings every other performance down to earth by comparison. And, though the violence seems grueling and gratuitous, the author’s meaning comes to us in a unique and unforgettable way. And it doesn’t hurt that this production comes at a time when a group of actors was available to be cast at a moment of notable iridescence in each of their own careers.
Quills becomes a breathless contest between the Marquis and a cleric appointed to bring the prisoner to repentance. As the priest, Antonio Rodriguez goes through a series of events trying to stop de Sade’s writings from being smuggled out of the asylum, in a struggle that becomes both comic and terrible. In this version, the Marquis even has a little dash of Hannibal Lector in him, heightening the drama and raising questions about who’s really in control.
Caitlin Mickey is delightful as a laundress, wildly infatuated with the Marquis’ writings, and Charlie Barron exudes campy corruptibility as an architect and decorator to the landed gentry. Stacie Knock is very funny recounting her own highs and lows (and highs again) as the Marquis’ wife, as her fortunes see-saw in opposition to her husband’s.
Excellent lights and set by Maureen Berry and Dunsi Dai, respectively.