In debating his bawdy, infamous tales, the Marquis de Sade forcefully argues that his stories are simply designed to entertain — there is no message to be found.
However, there is a message in Quills, but we’re afraid that saying more than that would spoil it. And who would want that kind of release sucked dry so quickly when it can be massaged and gently stroked in a two-hour jaunt through the greatest hits of human depravity?
Writer Doug Wright’s first production of Quills was more than a decade ago, but his tale of the thought police and the dangers of limiting our literary lexicon is just as biting. The fresh debate in 2009 over torture actually may give the production a more literal relevance than its allegorical intentions. In the tale, we see the Marquis’ last years, locked up in a mental hospital and desperate to put his pen to paper and get out his writings — both salacious and debauched.
The production, featuring CofC students and alumni — is in good hands. The staging is excellent and puts to good use every disadvantage of a small theater — right down to the loud door the audience first uses to enter. Like the Marquis’ stories, it’s only when we you get a little deeper into the tale that you understand the genius of the design.
Sam McCalla does the heavy lifting as the Marquis’ jailer and priest, Abbe de Coulmier. McCalla seems to get to Abbe’s conflicted nature a little late, but his frustration at the Marquis and the writer’s unwillingness to recognize his own perversion envelopes the audience in scene after scene and makes the character’s final lot all the more bittersweet.
In the end we’d like to have given these talented young actors a little more time. The Abbe’s lines are rightly delivered in an exasperated rush. But the rest of Wright’s words, like the Marquis, are meant to be rolled around the tongue — with each picked fruit put to good use before moving on.
As the saucy Marquis, Robbie Thomas savored every word. But the two-hour run time left a few other actors tripping over wonderful dialogue as they were forced to rush through. In the end, the production still went a little long, but could have gone longer and been even more delicious.