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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Marat: Scorching Play Goes Tepid

Since staging an exceptionally strong, insightful version of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya" two years ago, director Mark Rozovsky has been treading water. With the exception of "Murderer," his own superficial dramatization of Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment," he has repeatedly turned over the stage at his Theater U Nikitskikh Vorot to other directors, with only mixed success.

Now Rozovsky is back with a new production of Peter Weiss' "The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat" -- the full title of which continues, "as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade." (The play is billed in some productions as simply "Marat/Sade.")

But this effort only suggests that Rozovsky is still looking for the secret to get him moving again.

Weiss' play is a scorching, philosophical treatise centered on an ongoing dialogue between the egalitarian revolutionary Marat and the supreme individualist Sade. Flitting around them is a group of 14 crazies who, depending on the whim influencing them at the moment, are either in accord with or in opposition to the two principals.

But Rozovsky, who began his career in the 1960s running the amateur student theater at Moscow University, staged the play as if it were a topical revue. He invariably gave punch-line stress to lines about parliamentary strife, revolutionary chaos and corrupt defense and finance ministers. His use of the attendant crazies as a chorus of clowns further softens the play's impact. The move might have worked had the purpose of the jesters been to deepen a sense of alienation, but instead, in all their circuslike clamoring for freedom, they merely create goofy foils for Marat and Sade.

Marat, advocating the virtues of a moderate republican form of government, is played by Sergei Desnitsky, who seems to be the only actor Rozovsky will cast in a leading role these days. Solid and capable, though lacking variety, Desnitsky brings the same workmanlike reliability to each of his now numerous roles. Here he plays Marat -- sitting in his bath and waiting to be stabbed by Charlotte Corday -- with characteristic aloofness, perhaps confusing weary disillusionment for thoughtfulness.

More effective is the young Igor Senko as the deliciously disgusting Marquis de Sade, who declares that equality among humans is impossible: Humans, he says, are the cruelest, most dangerous and most insane of all beasts. Usually reclining in a chair in front of the stage, his nervous twitches, curling lip, graceful gestures and sated gaze create a persuasive image of a man absorbed in a philosophical vision. For all his outer calm, Senko's Sade burns with an inner fire.

But as news of the revolutionary strife taking place in Paris (or is it Moscow, hint, hint?) leaks into the asylum, Marat and Sade can never achieve a real duel. Each merely presents his views in alternating monologues that are undercut and broken up by the other inmates' amateurish antics.

Tatyana Shvets created an appropriately pristine interior of a hydropathic asylum, with Marat's bathtub at center. Light designer Efim Udler once again proved he is the best in the business, with his jarring, unusual colors that take on spatial qualities.

But, with minor exception, this "Marat" is confused and lackadaisical. It just is not the kind of material that Rozovsky's unquestionably sincere, but undeniably limited, team is capable of handling.

"The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat" (Presledovaniye i ubiistvo Zhan-Polya Marata) plays Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday at 7 P.M. at the Theater U Nikitskikh Vorot, 23/9 Bolshaya Nikitskaya. Tel. 202-8219/5600.