Some days the inmates really are running the asylum — or at least the Drama Club — which is the premise for “Marat/Sade.”
A revival of the seldom-produced work opens Friday at Brava Theater Center in the Mission — exactly 219 years to the day the titular event actually took place.
An event may not seem evident in the show’s economical moniker until you know the full title of “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.”
German-born playwright Peter Weiss used the historical markers of the bathtub-set murder of French Revolution activist Marat, and the mental institution incarcerations of the Marquis de Sade — who directed plays starring other inmates — to craft a disturbing look at class struggle.
It’s a play within a play, with music produced by Marc Huestis, the impresario behind almost two decades of Hollywood celebrity-attended film tributes at the Castro Theatre.
Huestis has teamed up with Russell Blackwood, producing artistic director of Thrillpeddlers, to bring the dark title to stage light again.
Many core Thrillpeddlers team members, including ex-Cockette and music director Scrumbly Koldewyn, are working on the project. “We generally have a more narrow mission as far as genres go, with Grand Guignol and Theatre of the Ridiculous,” says Blackwood, “but I certainly see strong elements of both in this play.”
“We’re a revival company that’s about bringing pieces back from the ’60s and ’70s,” he continues. “Certainly the de Sade aspect, the aspects of insanity and the fact that it’s not a naturalistic play, suit us. Thrillpeddlers can be, well, very theatrical.”
A Tony winner for best play in 1965, “Marat/Sade” was imported to Broadway from London and featured a young Glenda Jackson as Charlotte Corday, Marat’s executioner. Jackson, along with original co-stars Ian Richardson and Patrick Magee, appeared in the 1967 film version.
Set in the French Revolution, Blackwood notes, “France’s population was divided into three estates. The first estate was the clergy, the second estate was the aristocracy and the third estate, which was 97 percent of the population, was everybody else.
“You read a fact like that and it doesn’t take much to draw a parallel,” he says, referencing today’s 99 percent world. “Marat looked more towards the movement and de Sade looked to the individual. The play doesn’t make a decision for you about who is right.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by Thrillpeddlers
Where: Brava Theater Center, 2781 24th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 1:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes July 29
Tickets: $25 to $38
Contact: (415) 863-0611, www.thrillpeddlers.com