With The Suit, theater director Peter Brook-whose 1987 production of The Mahabharata inaugurated the BAM Majestic Theater (now the BAM Harvey Theater)-returns to BAM with Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord to showcase his signature approach of innovative stage design and the integration of live music. Written by Can Themba, The Suit was adapted for the stage by Mothobi Mutloatse, and Barney Simon.
To tell this tale of simmering resentment and tragedy in the context of apartheid-era South Africa, Brook, Marie-Hélène Estienne, and Franck Krawczyk blend a minimalist aesthetic with a soundscape that includes a version of Strange Fruit, traditional African melodies, and an unconventional evocation of Schubert lieder to thicken the tension between a collectively wounded husband and wife.
Living in the Johannesburg settlement Sophiatown, middle-class law clerk Philemon worships his wife, Matilda. Despite the daily oppression of apartheid life in 1950s, he considers himself a happy man. All of this changes when Philemon is tipped off and returns home to discover Matilda with another lover who narrowly escapes, leaving his suit behind on a hanger.
Caught in a vortex of emotions ranging from jealousy to rage, Philemon-a non-violent man-sets forth a unique punishment for his wife: to go on with life as usual but to treat the suit as an honored house guest. An extra place has to be set for it at the table every night and the suit is taken everywhere including the bedside as a constant reminder to the wife of her betrayal. Despite this humiliating commandment, Matilda attempts to redeem her reputation by joining a ladies' cultural club. Despite her best efforts, Philemon still thinks she has a lesson to learn, which plays out during a tea party at their home. Philemon regrets his actions only after it's too late. His wife is dead.
This lauded production, seen at the Young Vic, the Naples Theater Festival, and Festival de Oto?o, among others, is scheduled to play in Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai throughout December 2012. It features actors and musicians from Paris' Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord including Rikki Henry, Nonhlanhla Kheswa, Jared McNeill, William Nadylam, Arthur Astier, Raphaeël Chambouvet, and David Dupuis.
The production runs at BAM's Harvey Theater (651 Fulton St), Jan 17-Feb 2; Tue-Fri at 7:30pm, Sat at 2 pm and 7:30pm, Sun at 3pm. Tickets start at $25. Peter Brook and his BAM legacy will be celebrated at BAM's Theater Benefit following the January 24 performance at 7pm. Gala tickets: 718-636-4182. Artist Talk: Peter Brook, Marie-Hélène Estienne, and members of the company on Jan 18, post-show (free for same-day ticket-holders).
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Canodoise Daniel "Can" Themba was born in 1924 in Marabastad, Pretoria, South Africa. After graduating with a degree in English and acquiring a teaching diploma from the University of Fort Hare, he moved to Sophiatown, Johannesburg-a vibrant multi-racial community. Themba then worked as a reporter and an editor at Drum magazine, after winning a short story competition. He worked alongside other aspiring black journalists who came to be known as the "Drum Boys." These included Lewis Nkosi, Nat Nakasa, Bloke Modisane, and Es'kia Mphahlele. Themba also worked for The Golden City Post in Johannesburg.
His writing, including The Suit, won several prizes, including the 1953 Drum award. His stories were celebrated for the way they depicted "... the harsh and depressing conditions of African life in the Johannesburg townships." Themba left Johannesburg in the early 1960s to teach in Swaziland. While there, Themba's work was banned and he was declared a statutory communist. He later passed away at the age of 43, reportedly due to alcohol abuse. His work was published posthumously in a collection entitled The Will to Die (1972) and later in The World of Can Themba (1985). Can Themba was awarded the Order of Ikhamanga in Silver for "Excellent achievement in literature, contributing to the field of journalism and striving for a just and democratic society in South Africa."
Peter Brook was born in London in 1925 and has achieved distinction throughout his career in the disciplines of theater, opera, and literature. Following his studies at Magdalen College at the University of Oxford, he dedicated himself to the performing arts, soon directing some of the great actors of his time-John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, and Paul Scofield-as well as in iconic venues across the UK and beyond. He directed and performed with the Royal Shakespeare Company in such productions as Titus Andronicus, King Lear, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Marat/Sade (also seen on Broadway), and Antony and Cleopatra.
Brook became identified with a pared-down, minimalist style in which the audience was returned to a raw and unmediated encounter with the power of the performing art. In 1971, he founded the ?International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris and in 1974, he established its permanent base at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. Among his landmark works are the stage adaptation of the epic Indian poem Mahabharata, which tells the story of mankind; the film version of The Lord of the Flies; and Sizwe Banzi is Dead, an apartheid-era classic.