Naked People Have Little or No Influence on Society

In Apartheid-era Sophiatown, Philemon (William Nadylam) returns home early one afternoon to find his wife, Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa), in bed with another man.  Once discovered, the man flees in his underwear, leaving behind a suit.  In a bizarre act of revenge, Philemon forces Matilda to treat the empty suit like a guest in their home—they feed it, speak to it, even take it for walks; the silence about the infidelity, coupled with tangible evidence of its occurrence, picks away at their marriage as, outside, Black South Africans lead lives of dehumanizing segregation.

Peter Brook is a master of suggestion, and his set—comprised of a handful of chairs and several garment racks—does wonders to evoke his vibrant city.  Jared McNeill, playing The Suit’s narrator, beams as he describes his hometown, kibitzing with us without any sense of forced or staged interaction.  When a party scene is called for, he wrangles members of the audience with the kind of charm that is usually lacking in such gimmicky antics.  Meanwhile, Mr. Nadylam and Ms. Kheswa haunt us with their soundless pain, occasionally breaking out into song.

Still, there is something essential that is absent from this production.  Though Philemon and Matilda’s breakdown is at times devastating, the analogy to the social upheaval that surrounds them is never clearly drawn; indeed, Apartheid is almost never mentioned or even alluded to.  Here, Mr. Brook’s sparseness becomes a fault—he has worked on The Suit for nearly fifteen years (it premiered in 1999 as Le Costume in France), and yet what is an admittedly delightful production nonetheless fails to become a profound tragicomedy.

The Suit runs through February 2nd at the BAM Harvey Theater.  651 Fulton Street  Brooklyn, NY.  1 hour 15 minutes.  No intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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