In Peter Brook's 'Suit,' a couple in apartheid's shadow

Nonhlanhla Kheswa and Ivanno Jeremiah play a troubled couple. PASCAL VICTOR
Nonhlanhla Kheswa and Ivanno Jeremiah play a troubled couple. PASCAL VICTOR
Posted: March 01, 2014

Created by the playwright/director/theorist Peter Brook, with his longtime collaborator Marie-Helene Estienne, The Suit is a touching musical play about life in South Africa under the tyranny of apartheid.

Now at the Prince Music Theater, the show has been on tour, first in London, then New York, and is on its way to Washington. It stars the beautiful Nonhlanhla Kheswa as a young wife who longs for "more" in her life. Her husband (Ivanno Jeremiah) learns she has been cheating on him, and when he comes home unexpectedly one morning, he scares off her lover, who leaves behind his suit. The plot depends on the husband's authority and menace, but neither is much in evidence.

As punishment for her infidelity, he insists that she treat the suit as an honored guest - feeding it at the table, taking it on walks. This weirdness continues to the breaking point, and the soap-operatic plot ends, predictably, in tears.

The most interesting character is the husband's friend (Jordan Barbour), the only one who speaks about public troubles - townships razed, populations relocated, police brutality - rather than private troubles. Of course, in plays about South Africa, the private is usually a metaphor for the public, and the couple's hopeless longings, betrayals, and despotic threats start to sound a lot like the country's.

I kept expecting the suit to become a real character in the play, but it didn't, despite moments when the top of the hanger actually seemed to be a head. Another South African play, Athol Fugard's Blood Knot, is also about a symbolic suit, but there the suit is filled with terrifying power and meaning.

This suit, like this entire show, is slight, and with the actors miming all the actions, and long songs presented concert-style, and people brought on stage from the audience, The Suit seems slow even for its brief, 75-minute length.

The music, written by Franck Krawczyk, is lovely and evocative, with Arthur Astier, Mark Christine, and Mark Kavuma playing a variety of instruments.


The Suit

Through March 8, Prince Music Theater, Broad and Chestnut Sts.

Tickets: $35-$75

Information: 215-972-1000 or info@princemusictheater.org.

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