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Quills, Trap Door Theatre. This sly fictionalization of the Marquis de Sade's last days (written by Doug Wright, who also scripted Philip Kaufman's 2000 film) starts out with calculated ambiguity: performance styles that strike a ginger balance between artificiality and emotional commitment and dialogue that veers from lyric grandiloquence to buffoonish comedy routine make it hard to tell whether this is hagiography, historical romance, or postmodern sitcom. But Quills soon resolves into a richly embroidered puzzler that's as much about itself as about de Sade, and as much by him as about him.

De Sade's captors and would-be reformers (John Gray as Dr. Royer-Collard and Sean Marlow as the Abbe de Coulmier) are really more ruined and corrupted protagonists than villains, and de Sade himself (Wesley Walker) is the apotheosis of sadist antihero, both corrupter and martyr. All three actors do marvelous work, especially Marlow, of whom the most is asked (aside from Walker, who calmly displays the Full Marquis for at least an hour). Nicole Wiesner, in a lovely double turn, is equally affecting as ingenue and emasculating coquette. Joey Wade's set design transforms the stage into giant sheets of longhand-filled parchment, reinforcing the script's subordination of character to text; the sound track, played live by Julius Dobiesz, Carl Wisniewski, and Rob Szymczak, is a slick combination of ambient and incidental effects. Beata Pilch's direction is adept throughout, but in the second act her grisly yet beautiful tableaux achieve a rare, searing memorability.

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