Just crazy talk

The Deutsches Theater takes on populist insanity in a timely production of Marat/Sade Jan 8, 15 and 24.

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Photo by Arno Declair

The Deutsches Theater takes on populist insanity in a timely production of Marat/Sade.

Das Volk are a group of teens in slick black wigs, angular black suits and a scream of red lipstick scribbled wide around their mouths. “We need a boss, a man of the people!” they chant in high-Expressionist style.

Marat/Sade is often described as a dialectical play comparing the French revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat with the self-serving, elitist Marquis de Sade. But in Stefan Pucher’s production, there is one magnetic heart: this chorus, comprised of students from the Ernst Busch school. The combination of Marat’s populist zeal and De Sade’s violent individualism is all the more chilling. Where, between these poles, do we the audience find ourselves? What options are available to us? When is the revolution coming and what will it be about? The questions are asked explicitly, if ironically, by the vampy, theatrical, and literally glittering sideshow MC, Anita Vulesica. Other characters provide other answers – Bernd Moss as Duperret breaks character to call out for “a little more Hartz IV, a little more education.” Applause.

Many productions of Peter Weiss’ 1964 play (originally from Berlin’s own Schiller Theater, by the way) foreground the text’s built-in metatheatricality – the play is set in an insane asylum, where the Marquis de Sade and other patients act out Marat’s murder. Here, the play-within-a-play characters take on a more theatrical guise. Instead of straitjackets or sunken eyes, the actors wear their French-revolution-era characters as half-sized, dangling soft puppets. The result is a Punch and Judy show full of the requisite camp and slapstick. But watching actors puppeteer tiny foam legs creates, surprisingly, room for long, political speeches to take root. Only at the end, through film projections of the inmates in grim, full-body costumes, is it underlined that all these stump speeches have been sound and fury, tales told by idiots. Even a sober plea for kindness is drowned out by the Volk’s chanting. Turns out that a play that was shocking in the 1960s can still make white-knuckle tense theatre today.

Marat/Sade, Jan 8, 15, 24 | Deutsches Theater, Schumannstr. 13, Mitte (with English surtitles)