Slicing and Dicing on Summertime Stages
S is for summer. It is also for stab, slash, and slice. In the season when lighter fare has traditionally been the default setting, three indie productions are challenging that notion just as summer kicks into high gear. And so we have Marat/Sade, Sweeney Todd, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch in imminent and overlapping runs.
The production of Marat/Sade is the result of three provocative San Francisco institutions coalescing: presenter Marc Huestis, best known for his Castro Theatre events featuring appearances by veteran film stars; Thrillpeddlers and its artistic director Russell Blackwood, known for both their Grand Guignol stagings and revivals of Cockettes musicals; and Brava Theatre, which provides the venue for Peter Weiss’ play in its July 11-29 run. (Tickets available at www.thrillpeddlers.com.)
Marat/Sade was a London and Broadway sensation in the mid-1960s that offers its own synopsis in its full title: 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.
The Marquis de Sade, who needs no introduction, was in fact incarcerated at Charenton during the last years of his life, where he did stage theatricals with fellow patients. And to refresh your history of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat was famous for inciting violence with his blistering attacks on more cautious revolutionaries, but it was after his influence had waned that a sympathizer of the moderate faction, Charlotte Corday, stabbed him to death while he was bathing at home.
In the Huestis/Thrillpeddlers production, the cast is led by Jeff Garrett as de Sade, Aaron Malberg as Marat, and Bonni Suval as Corday. Marat/Sade is a play with music in a Brechtian fashion, and Scrumbly Koldewyn is providing musical direction. Award-winning costume designer Beaver Bauer is outfitting the cast, which also includes such familiar names as Connie Champagne, Tom Orr, and Birdie-Bob Watt.
Ray of Light, a theatre that thinks both big and eclectically, is adding Sweeney Todd to a production history that includes The Full Monty, Tommy, and Jerry Springer: The Opera. Eureka Theatre will be home to the Stephen Sondheim musical, running July 12-Aug. 11, that tells the story of the demon barber of Fleet Street. (Tickets at www.rayoflighttheatre.com.)
"We’re not doing a Disney-fied version of the show, but rather a sinister take on Industrial-Era London," states the Ray of Light announcement. "It promises to be as sexy, dark, twisted, and gory as one would hope."
Inspired by a penny-dreadful character introduced to British readers in the mid-19th century, librettist Hugh Wheeler and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim crafted a story of a vengeful barber who returns to London to murder the corrupt judge who wrongly sentenced him to prison, defiled his wife, and made their daughter his ward. Setting up a barbershop above Mrs. Lovett’s meat pie shop, he practices slicing throats on other perceived miscreants while awaiting his chance at Judge Turpin’s jugular. The bodies are efficiently recycled into ingredients for Mrs. Lovett’s suddenly tastier meat pies.
Ben Randle, a frequent director at New Conservatory Theatre Center, is staging the musical on a set by Maya Linke and featuring newly crafted arrangements by musical director Robbie Cowan. Adam S. Campbell and Miss Sheldra head the cast as Todd and Mrs. Lovett, and other principals include Jessica Smith as Todd’s daughter Johanna, Matthew Provencal as her suitor Anthony, Ken Brill as Judge Turpin, and Kevin Singer as Mrs. Lovett’s young assistant Tobias.
A botched sex-change operation explains the latter half of the musical’s title. Hedwig and the Angry Inch follows the transgendered title character as she tries to eke out a musical career in the shadow of a double-crossing former partner who has become a superstar. Boxcar Theatre is currently presenting the radically reconceived version of the glam-rock musical that originally starred John Cameron Mitchell, who also wrote the text that accompanies Stephen Trask’s songs.
In explaining the changes made to the musical, Boxcar Theatre pokes fun at itself for the forced closure of its production of Little Shop of Horrors when the musical’s licensor learned that liberties had been taken with the material. "Have no fear," said musical director Dave Moschler, "this time we have permission."
Though the show is traditionally presented with just two performers on stage, Artistic Director Nick A. Olivero reports that Mitchell granted permission to feature actors to play the characters Hedwig refers to in her stories, and to have 12 actors depict the title character throughout the evening.
"Having so many sides of Hedwig’s personality represented really unlocked some deeper meanings in the story for me," Olivero said. And Moschler added, "What’s so exciting is how different our cast of Hedwigs are from one another. Men, women, black, white, older, younger, tall, skinny, short, large, gay, straight, French, British, and even Finnish." Wes Crain and Kendra Johnson are designing costumes, wigs, and makeup for 12 different Hedwig looks, as well as the other characters in the 17-person cast.
All of this takes place in the 49-seat Boxcar Playhouse on tiny Natoma Street, near 6th and Mission Streets. Starting 45 minutes before curtain, DJ PDPL will offer a mix of music designed to create the vibe of the club where Hedwig is performing as her nemesis rocks a nearby arena. Performances continue through July 8, with tickets available at www.boxcartheatre.org.