'Quills' are mightier than the sword

Emily Hamilton plays Madeleine, a chambermaid with a weakness for the perverse, with John Williams as Marquis de Sade in Cotuit Center for the Arts' production of Quills.
Daniel Fontneau/Cotuit Center for the Arts - Emily Hamilton plays Madeleine, a chambermaid with a weakness for the perverse, with John Williams as Marquis de Sade in Cotuit Center for the Arts' production of Quills.

My original copy of this column is, of course, penned in my own blood with a molar I ripped from my gums, which—needless to say—gave me a giant orgasm.

If you find this statement tickles your fancy, then by all means, please go see Quills at the Cotuit Center for the Arts sometime between today and October 23rd.

Though some may be familiar with the 2000 movie by the same name, Doug Wright’s play Quills (originally developed in 1995 at the New York Theater Workshop) examines the complicated character of the Marquis de Sade, a man so vulgar his work becomes a thing of beauty. 

With this brave theater production, the Cotuit Center for the Arts explores the dark side of creation, religion, conformity, and censorship. Hallelujah!

The Grand Guignol of Cotuit

Set in an 18th century insane asylum (where the real Marquis spent his final days), the conflict of the play centers around the efforts of the corrupt asylum doctor (Christopher Cooley) and the virtuous priest, Abbe de Coulmier (Troy Davies), to keep the Marquis from writing his scandalous, scintillating prose.

Robbed of his quills and parchment, the Marquis (John Williams) turns to writing on his bed sheets, and finally, his clothes.

Nearing the end of his rope, the Abbe takes the Marquis’ clothes, forcing him to spend a majority of the show in the nude.

This is live theater at its best: there is a naked man, past his prime, baring his body to the audience for any critical eye and uncomfortable reaction. Played by a veteran CCftA actor Williams, this impossible-to-ignore fact comes across naturally, humiliated and lacking self-consciousness at the same time.

Davies performs the role of the Abbe with a strong and simple hand, allowing the audience in on the full journey of his personal moral investigation. A reasonable man of the cloth who loses his way in the face of Doctor Royer-Collard, the audience will no doubt identify with the Abbe’s moral struggle as he begins to commit the atrocities he has so fought against.

Director Mary Arnault guides the journey through Quills with great care and attention to detail, aided in no small part by set designer Andrew Arnault and costume designer Alan Trugman.

The sound effects by Daniel Fontneau may have been my favorite aspect, taking my imagination to great heights, usually in total darkness as a head was chopped from a body or a chambermaid was impaled to her death.

The music and lighting (Gregg Hamm) guided us seamlessly from the world of the asylum to the other locations, eliminating the need for scene changes on the curtain-less stage.

Risky business

For the Cotuit Center for the Arts to undertake Quills, at this time of year, on the Cape, is a thing of absolute beauty. It sets a new precedent, forcing us to look into unsavory mirrors, to be uncomfortable, to dislike our protagonist—only to find ourselves wishing we could slip him a precious piece of paper through his cell bars. 

“My most desired outcome is to engage in conversation about what the play is about,” said CCftA executive director, David Kuehn.

“We have the responsibility to stretch our community. We have to challenge ourselves and our audiences. And the actors on stage and the artwork in the gallery do this. I knew it had to be so well done in order to not be gratuitous,” Kuehn said, thanking the CCftA board for supporting the production.

Quills is an extremely important piece. With wit, irony, and at times, hilarity, the play explores how we cannot censor art; try as we might to lock the artist away. Not only is it an extremely dangerous line to cross, the consequences are grim. As we learn, power trips for our own piece of mind can often cause more damage than the controversial subject matter itself.

The play is coupled with an Anthony Fisher exhibit in the adjoining gallery, drawings and paintings that combine elegantly with the themes and tenor of Quills.

Fisher also juried the "Exploring the Dark Side” exhibit on the upper balcony, which embraces as its main thrust, censorship and the darker pieces of ourselves.


If you go…


Now showing through October 23  at Cotuit Center for the Arts, 4404 Falmouth Road, Cotuit

Thursday, Friday, and Saturdays at 8 PM

Sundays at 2 PM

Tickets are $20 at the door; $18 for seniors and students; $15 for members

Due to the strong graphic language and nudity in this play, no one under age 18 will be admitted.

To reserve tickets, call (508) 428-0669 or visit ArtsOnTheCape.org.


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