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They say: 1795: Marquis de Sade wrote Philosophy in the Bedroom. 2012: a director adapts and stages this work in DC. However, there is one person who is none too happy about this. A raunchy, funny play-within-a-play about sex, art and theatre.
Catherine’s Take: More funny and insightful than the buzz — but not as smutty. In the Company of de Sade is based on the premise that theatre audiences are getting too comfortable. If live theatre is going to compete with mass entertainment, it needs to provide some real sex and violence, “a much-needed slap in the face”. “This is some sick shit,” enthuses one actor at the very unorthodox audition. “Sick shit is the basis of all successful modern entertainment,” quips the director. Playwright Timothy R. King neatly avoids alienating the audience by having the most sadistic moments presented in early rehearsals. Watching the “actors” play scenes of sex and torture with varying degrees of disgust, enthusiasm, resistance and lust had the audience laughing it’s collective ass off.
There’s more going on than a grope-fest. As the various actors either resist or embrace their roles, lively Shavian debates ensue. “I wouldn’t even come see this,” protests Terri, a right-out-of-drama school ingenue. A young Strasberg-inspired actor discusses the need for research with the classically trained Viola (the deliciously cougarish Kat Gadway), who riffs on Goethe and Weimar classicism. Viola also punctures the director’s claim that the show’s obscenity is oh-so-shocking “the first image of a woman wearing a strap-on was found on the walls of Pompeii.”
And therein lies In the Company of de Sade‘s only flaw. The theatrical in-jokes are hilarious and on-target: Their show’s selling so well that they “don’t even have to list on Goldstar.” On opening night, the director has the cast form a circle and say a group prayer to Dionysus. But when the director boasts that her show will go farther than Hair, Oh Calcutta, and “the 2007 WSC naked Macbeth,” it’s tough for a DC audience not to remember some really sick shit like last year’s Hotel F*ck, or just about anything Cherryred produced. Terri aspires to be an actor like “Holly Twyford, Naomi Jacobson or Sarah Marshall” — well, Marshall’s been in some pretty lewd stuff, bless her soul!
It’s not all jokes and intellectual arguments. As the director (who apparently is a sort of auteur — adapter and producer as well) dreams of her project going national and making “amounts of money almost as obscene as our play,” members of the cast are threatened by an unseen enemy. This plot twist gives In the Company of de Sade its most dramatic moments. When the antagonist finally does appear, the character’s demons are handled with sensitivity. Inside the bullying baddie is a damaged person, with a valid reason for wanting to stop the show.
See In the Company of de Sade for the clever script and strong performances, but don’t expect to be shocked. “Do you think DC is ready for this?,” asks one character. DC’s been ready, and seen more.
See it if: You thought Slings and Arrows needed some S&M.
Skip it if: You’re expecting nudity, whips and chains.