Cleveland, Ohio — The most extraordinary thing about the thought-provoking and entertaining production of “Marat/Sade” is not that the Outcault Theatre is convincingly converted into a 19th century insane asylum. It’s that its occupants are played by college students rather than seasoned professional performers.

As an audience member, you are transported to 1808 and are attending a performance by the inmates of the Charenton Asylum. Also spectating the play is the director of the hospital, Coulmier, and his daughter, who have come to see how the arts are healing some of the patients. Directed and written by the Marquis de Sade, the play within a play explores the assassination of Jean-Paul Marat in 1773.

Confined to a medicated bath to treat his rare skin condition, Marat is attended by his mistress and caretaker Simmone. A radical journalist and politician, Marat was instrumental in spurring revolts during the French Revolution, an occupation that earned him many enemies, one of them being his assassin, Charlotte Corday. The Marquis de Sade, a philosopher himself, is a character in his own play and engages in many profound debates with Marat.

Written by Peter Weiss in 1963, “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” is reminiscent of the theatrical stylings of both Brecht and Artaud.

Cleveland State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance is staging “Marat/Sade” in the Outcault Theatre under the direction of Allan Byrne and musical direction of Daniel McNamara. The Tony Award-winning “Marat/Sade” is quite an undertaking for a college production, but the diligent direction of this show makes each moment entertaining. The cast hits their many cues with precision while still managing to feel random and erratic.

Michael Mauldin plays the Marquis de Sade. An obvious equity actor, Mauldin is absolutely venomous when he confronts Marat on their clashing ideals. The Marquis de Sade, for whom sadism is named, is also equally as disturbing during a whipping scene. Eric Wloszek is more reserved as Jean-Paul Marat, but he delivers complex philosophical dialogue with the same authority as Mauldin. Wloszek’s abstract musings are rousing and powerful.

The cast of “Marat/Sade.” Photo by Steve Wagner.

The inmates are corralled and the play narrated by the Herald character, who is well embodied by Anthony “X” Brown. His air of confidence as he reminds other characters of their lines and his conducting of the show is endearing.

Cheyenne Bizon plays the inmate with a sleep disorder, Charlotte. Bizon has proved her strong voice in her performance in “Company” last fall, but in her role as Charlotte, Bizon’s voice is rather frail and distant, a conscious choice that is fitting of the narcoleptic character.

Evan Martin as the sex crazed Duperret, Charlotte’s love interest, is often chained in order to contain his lust. Duperret looks on the rest of the players with complacence, but Martin periodically breaks his face of complacency with devilish licks of the lips and hungry glances, details that help craft a truly creepy character.

Christina Katsaras’s Simmone has little quirks of her own, such as nervously wringing the rag she holds in her hands, that help define her already likable character. In fact, many of the actors employ a certain oddity to set them apart from the rest.

Jacob Christopher Gaspar’s constant heavy blinking and vacant gaze as the Man Animal is certainly convincing of a stunted mental state. It’s quite terrifying when his lamb-like demeanor explodes in a passionate rage. The effectiveness of this frenzied outburst is also demonstrated by the straitjacket-bound Jordan Ficyk as Jacques Roux, who has his own surge of intense madness.

While Allan Byrne and Kaitlyn E. Levigne as Coulmier and his daughter make small facial reactions to the play, the inmates will cackle, moan and fidget about. Although this sells the asylum feel, some of the inmates become slightly too interruptive and distract from the featured dialogue.

Raven Mone’t Bryant, Frank Ivancic, Matthew Logan and Suzanna A. Szabados are the four main inmate singers with crazed hair and makeup by Izzy Veto. The music in “Marat/Sade” acts as more of a commentary rather than a tool of plot progression, but the cast makes sure it is always interesting. Timothy Richard Parks, Ben Gillooly, Casie Griffis and David Holmberg are inmates that handle most of the instruments, playing them with just enough impulse and spontaneity to come across as insane while still sounding rhythmic.

Dressed in sheet-like garb by Russ Borski, the inmates are stained and unkempt. Borski also designed the set and lighting, both working well with each other. The asylum bath house has plenty of grates for draining and cell bars that also act as haunting sources of lighting.

While you don’t have to be insane to see “Marat/Sade,” you would be insane to miss it.

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When: Through April 15th

Where: Outcalt Theatre, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland

Tickets: $10, call 866-546-1353 or visit www.playhousesquare.org

Cover photo caption: The cast of “Marat/Sade.” Photo by Steve Wagner.

Gwendolyn is an arts journalist, media critic and aspiring author. She is a sophomore studying journalism and theater at Cleveland State University. She also reviews community theater for up to eight different newspapers in the Northeast Ohio area and has acted as a guest critic for the Cleveland Jewish News. As a member of the Cleveland International Film Festival Selection Committee, Gwendolyn has critiqued films for two years while also working as a stage manager for the Cleveland State Music Department. She loves reading, writing and the arts and she hopes to one day have a novel published.

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