Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review: THE SUIT

By Toby Zinman

Review: THE SUIT


By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

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

The show has been on tour, first in London, then New York, and is on its way to Washington D.C.   It stars the beautiful Nanhlanhla 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 his 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) who is the only character 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 iconic 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 up on stage from the audience, The Suit seems slow even for its brief 75-minute length.

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

Prince Music Theater,  Broad & Chestnut Sts. Through March 8.  Tickets $35-75. Information:215-972-1000 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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