Different Stages one of Austin’s long standing roving theatrical companies has put together a though provoking and provocative production of Doug Wright’s “Quills”. The story surrounds the Marquis De Sade, the namesake behind the word “Sadistic” and his vulgarly erotic stories that shocked and delighted the people of France in the early 1800’s. The message is a tricky one and is easily missed in it’s dramatic and almost unbearable frankness, “be careful how hard you try to fight evil before the evil become you”.
The story revolves around the Marquis De Sade who is masterfully and boldly (to put it mildly) portrayed by Austin actor Craig Kanne, who performs over half the play completely nude locked in the dungeonous cell in the Charenton Asylum. Kanne plays the role so honestly and confidently that shortly after he is stripped of his clothing the audience forgets that the actor is in fact nude. Kanne has done something that few actors can, and be totally and completely involved in their role that you honestly believe you are being entertained by the Marquis himself. In every story there is the Antagonist and the Protagonist, however in this story it is a fine line between the two that at some point gets crossed, in this case that line is blurred and crossed by Joe Hartman who plays Abbe De Coulmier, the priest who is stationed at the Asylum to help treat the mental instability of the Marquis and silence his erotic fiction before it takes its toll on the french society. Hartman gives a commitment to his character taking us into the struggle between the desire to be good and the lure of evil and sexual appetite that lies dormant in all of us.
With this story of greed, lust, death and gore there will hopefully be a B. Iden Payne award for Kanne and an honorable mention for Hartman, the same can not be said of the supporting characters in this cast who for lack of a better term over dramatized the characters which they play to a point where sometimes it was distracting and almost confusing as to the message that the director was trying to convey. Even still the performances by Kanne and Hartman were so bold and so strong that it was enthralling to the very end of the show, leaving us wanting more and unable to believe what we had witnessed.
In addition to stunning performances the production team did a masterful job of sealing up this package with a pretty little bow, the lighting designed by Patrick Anthony was provocative and well thought often helping to delve further into the bowels of the dank asylum. The Costumes by Ann Ford were impeccable and perfect for the era and location. Many of my readers know what a stickler I am for period costumes being exact, and Ann Ford did a marvelous job in keeping the details and designs appropriate for the time. While it is sad to me that I caught this show at the end of it’s run it most definitely makes me look forward to the upcoming performances that “Different Stages” will be presenting. I give this production 4 out of 5 stars a consistent production with some superb acting. I am looking forward to their upcoming production of “Good People” this April.