Legendary film and theatre director, Peter Brook, best known for his minimalist, collaborative-driven, and physically-oriented style of directing that broke all of the traditional rules of theatre, along with co-adapters, Marie-Hélène Estienne and Franck Krawczyk, have brought South African writer, Can Themba’s, short story, “The Suit,” to the Seattle Repertory stage.
The play tells the story of a black couple (played by Ivanno Jeremiah as the husband and Nonhlanhla Kheswa as his wife) living in South Africa during the time of apartheid. When the husband finds out that his wife has been cheating on him with another man, he requires, as a punishment, that she pay respect and honor to her lover by taking care of her lover’s suit, which he left behind while hastily fleeing the couple’s house after having been discovered by the husband who came home to find his wife in bed with the other man.
The husband requires that they have meals with the suit propped up at the dinner table, that they take walks with the suit through town, that the suit remain in their bedroom, well taken care of by the wife, so as to serve as a reminder of her infidelity. But any sympathy that we feel for the husband is quickly erased by the humiliation and control he comes to exert over his wife; his cruelty and inability to forgive ultimately lead to the demise of his wife, and by default, his marriage.
Thus, “The Suit” presents audiences with a relatively simple story about betrayal, forgiveness, and control. It is set to music that adds much to an otherwise minimalistic plot-line and staging. The set consists primarily of chairs and wardrobe racks that can be easily used and manipulated to become symbols of other objects (ie. doors, beds, closets, etc.) The costumes (designed by Oria Puppo) also maintain the minimalist aesthetic. In short, the focus here is on the acting, the music, and the storyline more than it is on stagecraft, and the show does excel in this domain.
The actors and musicians are all on their mark and deliver strong performances, especially that of Kheswa, who plays the wife. The musicians (Arthur Astia, Mark Christine, and Mark Kavuma) were also an added benefit in their musical roles as well as when taking on the roles of secondary characters. And the two male leads (Ivanno Jeremiah and Jordan Barbour) were also equally good.
Personally, I enjoyed the show. It was short, simple, and well-executed. The story, itself, is a bit lackluster and somewhat difficult to understand in terms of what it is trying to say, but overall, this is a good traveling production that would probably play better on college campuses, in ways, more than it would in large, professional houses. I say this, simply because of the directorial style, which as I said, is very minimalist and overtly symbolic. But with a short running time of only 75 minutes, the play clips along quite nicely so that one never loses interest despite the underwhelming story and staging.
“The Suit” plays through April 6 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer Street. For tickets and info, see http://www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222.