Theater production combines Japanese theater, French Revolution

The upcoming production of “Madame de Sade” centers around six women who were intimately involved with Marquis de Sade, a controversial novelist who was prominent in the late 1700s. Photo by Brandon Geib.

Maya Earls
Spectrum Editor

With only four plays remaining in the season, Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre on March 28 will present “Madame de Sade,” a modern Japanese man’s imagination of life in Paris before the French Revolution.

Directed by senior graduate student Kathryn LeTrent, the play centers around Renée de Sade, the wife of French philosopher Marquis de Sade. Marquis de Sade, best known for his erotic publications, spent 32 years of his life imprisoned. Of those 32 years, 13 were spent in an insane asylum.

LeTrent, who is pursuing an MFA in theater pedagogy, with a focus on theatre performance, said she was interested in working with the play since she saw a student-run production during her undergraduate years.

“I really loved it,” LeTrent said. “I had never heard of it before, and it was kind of strange.”

The play was written in 1965 by Yukio Mishima and published in 1967. The characters of the play are six women who were intimately involved in Marquis de Sade’s life. LeTrent said she had difficulties finding a copy of the script because it was never reissued after publication. After years of searching, LeTrent finally obtained a copy of the script in fall 2013.

With the script in her hands, LeTrent said she decided “Madame de Sade” would be her thesis piece, and her last big hurrah before leaving VCU.

“I am very interested, as an acting teacher, in how Western acting training can be enhanced and enriched by the study of Asian theatre,” LeTrent said.

LeTrent used the production to experiment with different Japanese Kabuki theatre techniques. One example, LeTrent said, was placing a stage near the audience, so actors would enter and exit directly in front of attendees.

“Actors are very much in the audience,” LeTrent said. “They’re like rockstars.”

At a turning point within the character’s lives, the actors would strike a Mie pose in Kabuki theatre. LeTrent said the Mie pose is similar to a film close-up. Traditionally, the kabuki performances would involve dramatic costume changes on stage, which signify different emotions the actors would experience. While there was not enough money in the budget for complicated costume changes, LeTrent said she helped the actors portray transforming moments through their body movements.

“It’s more imaginative, without having a ton of resources for costumes,” LeTrent said.

LeTrent said her biggest hurdle while directing “Madame de Sade” was working around time constraints. The theater board scheduled her play to take places only weeks after the mainstage play, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” which LeTrent assistant-directed.

Even though she was able to put creative edits in her version of “Madame de Sade,” LeTrent said she made sure the play still respectfully imitated Kabuki theatre tradition.

“What we can take from it in this period of time is just a drop in the bucket,” LeTrent said.

“Madame de Sade” will open March 28 at the Shafer Alliance Laboratory Theatre on 221 N. Shafer St. at 7:30 p.m. and run until March 29. Tickets are free.

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