Lisa Gauthier


Alley Theatre

Through Dec. 23

This time of year, you may be thinking about holiday-themed activities, but there are other options out there, and the Alley Theatre's Quills will give you more to chew on than fruitcake.

Quills is the story of the last days of the Marquis de Sade (1740—1814), known for his disturbing pornographic writings that took the words "sexual experimentation" to a new and brutal level.

The lascivious Marquis nevertheless provides the viewer with some interesting philosophical conundrums. What is moral? Can true happiness only be found past societal norms? Is the only commonality between people their drive for sex? Are the Marquis' writings so powerful that even God cannot stand up to them?

Doug Powers is a compelling Marquis. His loquacious character sees the struggle between jailor and himself as a game, and he revels in it. The first act sees a smug and confident Powers controlling his environment. Even when Powers is stripped of his clothing and stands before the audience stark naked (for most of the play), his comfort in his own skin and his character's is evident.

Brian G. Hartz as the Abbe de Coulmier, the man in charge of the Marquis' rehabilitation, is the perfect foil. As a man of God he shows naïve patience with his charge and amusing disgust at the Marquis' prolific writings. The Abbe is the man who undergoes transformation here, ironically using means of torture that would eventually be described as sadism. (In fact, a list of items to be purchased for the asylum - beds with restraints, a St. Andrew's cross, etc. - are now common among the BDSM community.)

Hartz and Powers work beautifully together, creating a charged and dramatic staging of dire events. And somehow the dark play manages to be funny. Instead of bogging down the audience, Hartz and Powers milk the script for touches of humor, to great effect.

Kelsey Hanlon as the washing girl Madeleine (last seen as Abigail in Civic's The Crucible) fleshes out her part as victim. Vicki Smith as the Marquis' wife is fine, but Jeff Lovell and David Clark are both a little flat as the doctor and his architect, respectively.

Costumes are lovely thanks to designers Iaan Brandenburg and Jen Skarstedt.

Quills continues through Dec. 23, Fridays-Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m., plus Thursday, Dec. 22 at 8 p.m. Due to full nudity, adult situations and language, no one under 18 years of age will be admitted. Tickets are $15; $10 ages 24 and under and seniors. Call the Alley Theatre, 1716 N. Illinois St., at 317-926-8888.