Encore Michigan

Monster Box’s ‘Quills’ reveals the evil within

Review October 20, 2019 Patrice Nolan

WATERFORD, Mich.— Monster Box Theatre has eschewed the traditional round of campy Halloween-themed shows to offer two uniquely terrifying plays.

First up — Quills , an award-winning drama that takes its themes from the eponymous champion of sadism, the Marquis de Sade. Pulitzer-prize-winning playwright Doug Wright — who also authored the Quills screenplay starring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix and Michael Caine — spins an irresistible story that keeps the audience snickering uncomfortably at the witty dialog and squirming in their seats at the horrors unfolding in the Charenton lunatic asylum, just outside Paris.

Quills employs a number of historical persons and situations to add credence to a largely fictionalized account of the Marquis de Sade’s final days. Having made an enemy of the Emperor Napoleon with his Justine and Juliette , the Marquis de Sade (Dennis Kleinsmith) has been declared insane and confined at Charenton. The asylum is under the care of the kindly, progressive Abbe De Coulmier (Daniel DeRey), who hopes to cure the depraved, masochistic marquis using psychotherapy — literally having him purge his evil thoughts through writing.

When the manuscript is smuggled out and published with the help of the beautiful laundry maid, Madeleine LeClerc (Danielle Peck), there is hell to pay. Hell arrives in the form of Dr. Royer-Collard (John DeMerell), who has instructions to take charge at Charenton and silence the Marquis. The smug doctor favors traditional methods of disciplining the inmates. By traditional, he means medieval. The hypocritical doctor is intent on “curing” the Marquis de Sade’s heretical, pornographic, immoral proclivities with progressively sadistic treatments.

In fact, the seemingly pious doctor has issues of his own. His nymphomaniac wife (Betty DeWulf) will be his downfall if he can’t contain her, so he has hired an architect (Robert P. Young) to design a fabulous chateau that will keep her happily at home. To fund the project, the doctor has taken to embezzling funds from the asylum that are being provided by the Marquis de Sade’s wife, Renee Pelagie (Angela Dill) who has her own reasons for wanting her husband silenced.

As part of his punishment, the Marquis de Sade is stripped of every piece of clothing, including his powdered wig, and sits, sleeps and struts about proudly naked while making the poor Abbe feel shamed and vulnerable. The script brilliantly avoids any direct interaction between the Marquis de Sade and Dr. Royer-Collard, putting the unfortunate Abbe in the middle of their sinister power struggle. When the Marquis incites a riot that results in a gruesome murder, the doctor insists that the Abbe enforce a fitting punishment.

The Marquis’s elegant casuistry torments the Abbe and he is convinced by Dr. Royer-Collard that that “blood for blood” is the only fitting response. The Marquis asserts that the more they try to silence him, the louder his voice becomes. The more they try to contain his writing, the farther it spreads. And the more they condemn his view of humanity (the triumph of honest self-interest over faux humanitarianism) the more they elevate his life’s work.

In the end, this proves ironically prophetic. There are a number of themes at active work in this play. There is a strong argument for freedom of expression vs. the titillating power of editorial and physical suppression. The Marquis voices sinister opinions about the true, base nature of man that his more pious captors struggle to effectively refute.

The Marquis is a self- styled atheist with presumably no belief in heaven or hell, but he is alternately styled as a demon and a martyr by the capricious public. The play compares the patron saint of sadomasochism to defenders of the faith and asks us to choose, which is the monster — which holds the truth? This is a challenging play that artfully smudges the barriers between drama, dark comedy, grotesquerie and melodrama.

This Monster Box production, directed by Alan Madlane, is absolutely mesmerizing but deliberately uncomfortable. The company does a terrific job with an unsettling story that loves to shock us and Dennis Kleinsmith, as the Marquis de Sade, is terrifyingly brilliant. The show is co- produced by Paul Stark and Tahra Gribbin, who also handle lights and sound design. Dan Muncie is assistant director to Alan Madlane. Set concept and design are the work of Paul Stark and Alan Madlane.

The dark nature of this play and its sexually explicit dialog make it appropriate for adults-only audiences, and not all adults at that. Quills offers brilliant dialog and provocative comparisons between the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade and his “moral” captors. There is much to chew on here, which the more adventurous theatre goer will enjoy. It deserves to find its audience. And for those wanting to cap the Halloween season with a traditional thriller, Monster Box opens with The Little Girl who Lived Down the Lane on November 1st. You’ve been warned. Click here for show days, times and details. Read more about Quills 10/11-10/27 Read more about Monster Box Theatre 2

Week of 10/19/2020

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