Spielberg Collaborator János Szász

Directs “Marat/Sade” at the American Repertory Theatre

 

By Susie Davidson

Advocate Correspondent

 

CAMBRIDGE - Marat/Sade, a musical also known under its complete title "The Persecution and

Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the

Direction of Monsieur de Sade,” opens this Friday,

Feb. 15 at the American Repertory Theatre in

Cambridge. Running through March 17, the production, written by Peter Weiss with music by Richard

Peaslee, is directed by the renowned Hungarian director, János Szász, also Director of the

A.R.T.’s A.R.T./MXAT Institute for Advanced Theatre Training.

 

Marat/Sade features A.R.T. Company actors Thomas Derrah, Will LeBow, Stephanie

Roth-Haberle, Remo Airaldi, Alvin Epstein, Benjamin Evett, Jeremy Geidt, Karen MacDonald and John

Douglas Thompson, as well as A.R.T./MXAT Institute actors Sarah Douglas, Craig Doescher and Sandro

Isaack, with Paula Plum and the Institute’s Class of 2002 as the Ensemble.

 

A 1986 graduate of the Hungarian Academy for Cinema and Theatre, highly regarded film and theatre director János Szász won Europe’s FELIX prize for Best Young European Film in 1994 for his direction of the film Woyzeck, made from Georg Buchner's play. His other

award-winning films include 1990’s Don’t Disturb and 1997’s The Witman Boys, an official selection

at the Cannes Film Festival.

 

                 Szász, who received a Master’s Degree in Film Directing in 1987, also studied

drama and staging at the Academy of Theatre and Film Art in Budapest. His dramatic productions in

his native Hungary have included Ibsen's Ghosts and Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire

aswell as The King Stag, Uncle Vanya, Baal, Mother Courage, and Marat/Sade, and in the U.S., the

highly acclaimed staging of Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage at the A.R.T. last season, as well as

A Streetcar Named Desire for Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. He has also directed documentaries,

children's programs, and features for Hungarian State Television.

 

 

His current production Marat/Sade is a play within a play, taking place in an insane asylum, with a cast of 32 actors/musicians. Peter Weiss’s Tony Award-winning musical, written in 1964, achieved enormous success world-wide and was lauded for its daring new dramatic

form. It pits two of the world’s monstrous intellects against each other, asking contemporary

questions about the aesthetics of resistance. From 1801 until his death, the infamous Marquis de

Sade was imprisoned in the asylum at Charenton Hospice. There he continued to write and stage

plays, using his fellow inmates as actors. Sade’s scandalous productions provided a delicious

outing for the beau monde of French society. Two hundred and fifty years later, Peter Weiss

invented a new piece for Sade’s lunatic troupe to perform: they are to present “The Persecution

and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat.”

 

Szász orchestrates a highly charged production that is expected to create a strong emotional

connection with the audience. “I’m attracted to Marat/Sade,” he explains, “because it offers a

chance to get rid of the no-man’s-land between the audience and the actors. In the theatre,

there’s often no interaction between the audience and the events on stage.

 

                 “I want to create an intense production that makes the spectators use their

hearts, brains, and nerves. I want the audience members to be witnesses to the pain of the

patients who want to be free. I’m also interested in the connections between the patients of the

asylum and the parts they’re assigned in Sade’s play.”

 

                 The music will be affecting as well. “The music in Marat/Sade is grotesque,” he

frankly admits. “Sometimes it’s quite funny, but often it’s extremely heavy. It’s a bit like

circus music — music that’s perfect for an asylum.”

 

                 Szász, a member of the European Film Academy, knows well the dark and confining

side of life. The son of two Holocaust survivors, he has recently completed Eyes of the Holocaust,

a documentary film about the Hungarian Holocaust produced by Steven Spielberg for the Shoah

Foundation. The film was recently presented at the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival.

 

                 Spielberg, who won an Oscar for directing Schindler’s List in 1993, worked with

documentary filmmaker James Moll in 2001 to form a group of international directors creating

one-hour television documentaries, set in five countries: Poland, Argentina, the Czech Republic,

Russia, and Hungary. The Shoah Foundation maintains an archive of survivors’ testimonies, in

each’s native language. Spielberg has said that the project was made “in response to many demands

from educators all over the world to teach the history of the Holocaust, confront Holocaust

deniers and racial hatred.”

 

                 Szász is very enthusiastic about the breadth of the A.R.T. production. “I staged Marat/Sade in Hungary three years ago on a much smaller scale, so I know thegeneral map of the play. But we

didn’t have much time for that production, so I’m eager to continue exploring.”