I am so glad I was able to catch the last performance of the play “The Suit” in New York as it was one of the best plays I’ve seen to date. The Suit is based on the novel by South African writer, Can Themba. He was born in 1924 in Pretoria, SA. He moved to Sophiatown where he was often referred to as the “shebeen intellectual” because people would come hang out with him seeking intellectual conversations. He received a degree in English and teaching. A journalist and short story writer, his works often dealt with the harsh conditions of life in the townships in SA. He moved to Swaziland to teach and while there his work was banned from SA and he was forced to remain in exile. He died in 1969.
The set was minimally decorated with nothing but a dozen chairs, a table and a few clothing racks and yet, one quickly forgot that this was not an elaborate Broadway show set. This is mainly because the actors did such an amazing job at enacting the different scenes. When they ate invisible food, you could envision their exact meal. When they held on to the handles in an invisible bus, you were right there along with them on a typical busy morning commute to work. It was incredible! When they needed more people to attend their soirée, they seamlessly plucked audience members from their seats and made them guests of honor for the night, throwing off their jackets and announcing each by name as if they had all been impatiently waiting for them all along.This not only kept the crowd engaged, it had all of us crying of laughter.
It was interesting to see how the directors were able to include humor in this play, as the story itself was quite heavy. It was the story of Philomene and his wife Matilda. One day, Philomene catches his wife cheating on him and as her lover bolts, he leaves behind his suit. As a punishment and a constant reminder of her conniving ways, Matilda is to treat the suit as she would an honorable guest: take it with her everywhere she goes, feed it, seat it comfortably before going to bed. As I am sure any person subjected to such treatment would do, Matilda thinks of running away, but where to? Her mother is old fashioned and wouldn’t tolerate her coming back to live at home. She has no money to get her own place so she stays with her husband and endures the emotional torture, remaining grateful that not very many people know what she has done. She joins social clubs and tries to distract herself with other activities like singing (The actress Nonhlanhla Kheswa, had a beautiful voice by the way. She effortlessly shared three songs with the audience, including one of my favorites, a rendition of Malaika by Miriam Makeba). Yet still, the audience is left wondering throughout the play: How long will Matilda have to go through this? Can Philomene ever forgive her? And if he ever decides to, will it be too late?
I definitely recommend seeing this play if you ever get a chance. If you do, don’t forget to let me know what you thought of it!