Dallas-born playwright Doug Wright burst onto the theater scene in 1995 with Quills, a darkly comic fictionalization of the notorious Marquis de Sade’s final days. Now playing at the Overtime in a limited run, it’s a potent piece that gives discerning adults much to discuss over their post-theater cocktails.
Having been declared insane and imprisoned in the Charenton Asylum for his sexually explicit writings, the Marquis has developed a sort of friendship with the director of the institution, the liberal-leaning Abbé de Coulmier. However, the tough-as-nails new Chief Physician of the asylum, Dr. Royer-Collard, thinks that the Abbé has been far too kind to Sade and demands he be treated with a much firmer hand.
Sade remains prolific, both in his literature and his perversion. His wife, Reneé Pelagie, comes to the asylum to plead with Dr. Royer-Collard to stop her husband’s writing because it is devastating to her reputation in society. They make a shady deal, and Sade’s quills and ink are confiscated. Somehow, new tales are still making their way to the public, however.
It is discovered that Madeleine Leclerc, a young seamstress who works at the asylum, has been helping him to continue his work. She is forbidden from seeing him again, but the industrious libertine continues to pen his stories on bedsheets, using his own blood as ink. Furious, the Abbé strips him of his clothing and linen, leaving him naked and shivering in an empty cell. Such is his devotion to his art that he manages to find yet another way to go on.
Quills addresses the themes of art, censorship, class struggles and corporal punishment head-on. Though it’s often shocking in its frankness, it’s a beautifully-written piece that transforms the tawdriest of descriptions into something like poetry. Joseph Urick’s fearless performance as the unapologetic Marquis is ideal for the material, and he embellishes every syllable he speaks with a sly impishness.
Morgan Clyde impresses as the lusty young Madeleine, who’s drawn by the much older Sade’s brazenness. She also portrays Royer-Collard’s unfaithful wife in a couple of scenes. Susan Brogdon, as the self-absorbed, social-climbing Marquise, positively drips with hypocrisy. Michael Song is an appropriately imperious Royer-Collard, and Robert Moritz effectively projects the Abbé’s conflicted emotions as his character’s initial compassion for Sade is goaded by Royer-Collard into vengeful spite. James Caleb Lindsley rounds out the cast, portraying both an inmate and Royer-Collard’s crooked architect (and the doctor’s wife’s lover).
Rose Kennedy’s period costumes are splendid, and the piece is directed with assurance by Nicole Erwin. For this production, the theater is arranged in the French tennis court style, making for a very intimate experience. Chuck Drew’s sound and lighting design contribute greatly to the atmosphere.
Quills features frank sexual descriptions, language, nudity and violence. It is for audiences over the age of 18 only. Only a few seats remain for the Friday and Saturday performances being held on July 27 and 28 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets can be ordered online. The Overtime is located at 5409 Bandera Road, Suite 205.
Feature photo: Joseph Urick as the Marquis de Sade. Photos by Mary Rath.