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Theatre Review: ‘The Suit’

A permanent unwelcome visitor

By Diana Barth Created: January 23, 2013 Last Updated: March 29, 2013
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Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa) and Philemon (William Nadylam) are husband and wife in “The Suit.” (Richard Termine)

Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa) and Philemon (William Nadylam) are husband and wife in “The Suit.” (Richard Termine)

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—International theater director Peter Brook has brought his latest production to the BAM Harvey Theater for a limited run. It is the U.S. premiere of “The Suit,” based on the story by Can Themba, Mothobi Mutloatse, and Barney Simon, with direction, adaptation, and music by Mr. Brook, Marie-Hélène Estienne, and Franck Krawczyk.

Set in apartheid South Africa, most specifically Sophiatown, the middle-class Philemon (William Nadylam) adores his beautiful wife Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa). One morning, as he sets out for work, a neighbor (Jared McNeill) alerts Philemon that his wife has been receiving a daily visitor—a strange man.

Philemon (William Nadylam) is a middle-class South African who arranges a humiliating punishment for his unfaithful wife. (Richard Termine)

Philemon (William Nadylam) is a middle-class South African who arranges a humiliating punishment for his unfaithful wife. (Richard Termine)

Quickly returning home, Philemon almost catches the intruder, who escapes in time, but leaves his suit hanging in the apartment. Matilda is chagrined, but her unforgiving husband, torn with jealousy and rage, devises the most painful punishment: She must take the suit with her wherever she goes; it has a place at the dinner table and in their bedroom.

Most humiliating of all, she must have it with her at a jovial tea party at their home, where she is surrounded by puzzled friends and neighbors. The emotional pain is more than she can bear. The play ends tragically.

It is director Brook’s handling of the story that makes a theatrical impact. Three musicians are onstage at all times. Sometimes they interweave into the stage action, one donning a bandana to portray an elderly neighbor. For the party scene, three audience members accept the invitation to become part of the action. Therefore, levity is interspersed with the seriousness of the story. 

“The Suit”
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton Street, Brooklyn 
Tickets: 718-636-4100 or visit www.bam.org
Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Closes: Feb. 2

Because of the frequent unreal aspects in the staging, the play takes on an almost fable-like quality, supported by exquisite performances. Others in the cast are Rikki Henry, Arthur Astier, Raphaël Chambouvet, and David Dupuis.

The production was originally created in Mr. Brook’s company’s home in the Theatre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. It has already played there, at the Young Vic in London, and the Naples Theater Festival, among others. 

Peter Brook has a long history with BAM. In 1987, the former Majestic Theater was renovated for Brook’s remarkable adaptation of the nine-hour Indian epic poem “The Mahabharata.” The Majestic later became the Harvey Theater where “The Suit” is playing through Feb. 2.

Diana Barth writes and publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: www.diabarth@juno.com.




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