The first bit of brilliance attributable to this Right Brain Project show is that they thought to do it at all. Peter Weiss's great Brechtian provocation had seemed pretty much forgotten; as far as I can tell, it hasn't been performed in Chicago since 1999. Yet this 50-year-old play resonates like crazy with our times—that is to say, the time of the 99 percent.
We're in France, in 1808. The revolution is not only over, it's been decisively reversed. The rich are back on top, the poor are back in their hovels, and Napoleon Buonaparte is deep into his campaign to subjugate the world. That pornographic genius, the Marquis de Sade, has been interned in an insane asylum that prides itself on its enlightened policies, and in the spirit of progress he's been allowed to present a play he's written about the 1793 assassination of revolutionary firebrand Jean-Paul Marat, using fellow inmates as actors. A paranoid plays Marat, a narcoleptic the assassin, and so on. Naturally, all hell breaks loose—and not just one kind of hell but many.
Nathan Robbel's direction is the second bit of brilliance here. He provides an exquisitely paced set of explosions, building to a grand, chaotic display, like the fourth of July. And the large ensemble constitutes brilliant bits three through 30. Mild and grave, an impassive sponge for horror, Chad Gowen Spear makes an near-iconic Marat. And Richard Peaslee's songs—"We want our rights, and we don't care how"—are as chilling as ever.