OZ, Nashville’s groundbreaking new contemporary arts center, is the last US stop this year on an internationally acclaimed tour of Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord’s production of The Suit, directed by iconic theater artist Peter Brook in conjunction with his long-term collaborator Marie-Hélène Estienne. The work will play for three nights beginning Thursday (May 22) at the multipurpose venue located at 6172 Cockrill Bend Circle.
Performances on Thursday, Friday and Saturday start at 8 p.m. Thursday is French Cuisine Night with food and wine served for ticketholders beginning at 6:30 p.m.; Friday is South African Cuisine Night with food and wine served for ticketholders at 6:30 p.m. The show runs 75 minutes without intermission and tickets ($75) are available online by clicking here to visit the OZ website. Valet parking is available.
Based on South African writer Can Themba’s powerful 1963 tale that first appeared in the inaugural issue of Nat Nakasa’s literary journal The Classic, and adapted for the stage by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon of Johannesburg’s Market Theatre, The Suit is a poignant, music-filled story of marital betrayal and resentment and provides a unique perspective on apartheid-era life in South Africa. Known for his numerous landmarks of theater (from the grandiose Mahabharata to the groundbreaking Marat/Sade) and for directing films including Lord of the Flies, Brook directs the play along with Estienne. Composer Franck Krawcyzk provides musical direction.
The story of The Suit centers on Philomen, a middle-class lawyer who catches his wife, Matilda in the midst of an affair. Her lover flees, leaving behind the eponymous garment of the play. As punishment, Philemon makes Matilda treat the suit as an honored guest, preparing meals for it, entertaining it and taking it out for walks as a constant reminder of her adultery.
The setting of Sophiatown, a teeming township that was erased shortly after Themba wrote his story, is as much a character in the play as the unfortunate couple, and this production lends it life and energy even with a small cast. This exquisite work features a very minimal set, yet innovative staging that integrates live musicians among actors and musicians, performing music from sources ranging from Franz Schubert to “Strange Fruit” to Miriam Makeba.
Themba’s work was banned under the cruel restrictions of apartheid in his native South Africa, and he went into exile in Swaziland. He died an alcoholic before his most famous work was adapted for the stage by Mutloatse and Simon in the newly liberated South Africa of the 1990s. The production of The Suit premiered in Paris at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in April 2012, made its U.S. premiere at BAM in 2013. In his New York Times review of that presentation, Ben Brantley wrote that The Suit “reminds us of the power of fables and myths that transform grim events into raptly told, celebratory tales.”
The creative team includes Philippe Vialatte (lighting designer), Oria Puppo (costume designer) and Rikki Henry (assistant director).
The Suit is a production of C.I.C.T. / Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord and a co-production with Fondazione Campania dei Festival / Napoli Teatro Festival Italia, Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg, Young Vic Theatre, Théâtre de la Place – Liège, with the support of the C.I.R.T.
About the Artists
Daniel Canodoise “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 — then 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. 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. He directed his first play there in 1943. He then went on to direct over 70 productions in London, Paris and New York. His work with the Royal Shakespeare Company includes Love’s Labour’s Lost (1946), Measure for Measure (1950), Titus Andronicus (1955), King Lear (1962), Marat/Sade (1964), US (1966), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970) and Antony and Cleopatra (1978).
In 1971 with Micheline Rozan he founded the International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris and in 1974, opened its permanent base in the Bouffes du Nord Theatre. There, he directed Timon of Athens, The Ik, Ubu aux Bouffes, Conference of the Birds, L’Os, The Cherry Orchard, The Mahabharata, Woza Albert!, The Tempest, The Man Who, Qui est là?, Oh! les Beaux Jours, Je suis un Phénomène, Le Costume (the French version of The Suit), The Tragedy of Hamlet, Far Away, La Mort de Krishna, Ta Main dans la Mienne, Le Grand Inquisiteur, Tierno Bokar, Sizwe Banzi is dead, Fragments, Warum Warum, Love is my Sin and 11 and 12 — many of these performing both in French and English.
In opera, he directed La Bohème, Boris Godounov, The Olympians, Salomé and Le Nozze de Figaro at Covent Garden; Faust and Eugene Onegin at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York; La Tragédie de Carmen and Impressions of Pelleas at the Bouffes du Nord, Paris; and Don Giovanni for the Aix en Provence Festival.
Peter Brook’s autobiography, Threads of Time, was published in 1998 and joins other titles including The Empty Space (1968), The Shifting Point (1987), Evoking (and Forgetting) Shakespeare (2002), There are no Secrets (1993) and With Grotowski (2009). His films include Lord of the Flies, Marat/Sade, King Lear, Moderato Cantabile, The Mahabharata and Meetings with Remarkable Men. Brook, though he kept closed doors to his rehearsal room for the majority of his career, is the central subject of The Tightrope, a documentary film based on his style of direction with actors. The film was shot and directed by Brook’s son Simon Brook and had it’s U.S. premiere at the Lincoln Center Film Institute on Jan. 31.
Marie-Hélène Estienne began working with Peter Brook in 1974 on the casting for Timon of Athens, and consequently joined the Centre International de Créations Théâtrales (CICT) for the creation of Ubu aux Bouffes in 1977. She was Brook’s assistant on La tragédie de Carmen, Le Mahabharata, and collaborated on the staging of The Tempest, Impressions de Pelléas, Woza Albert!, La tragédie d’Hamlet (2000). Estienne also worked on the dramaturgy of Qui est là.
With Brook, she co-authored L’homme qui and Je suis un phénomène shown at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord. She wrote the French adaptation of the Can Themba’s play Le costume, and Sizwe Bansi est mort by authors Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona. In 2003 she wrote the French and English adaptations of Le grand inquisiteur, based on Doestoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov. She was the author of Tierno Bokar in 2005, and of the English adaptation of 11 and 12 by Amadou Hampaté Ba in 2009. Estienne co-directed with Peter Brook the production of Fragments, cinq pièces courtes de Beckett, and with composer Franck Krawczyk, she freely adapted Mozart and Schikaneder’s Die Zauberflöte into Une flûte enchantée.
Franck Krawczyk (born in 1968) started his musical training in Paris and continued in Lyon, where he currently teaches chamber music at the Conservatory (CNSMD). Very early on, Krawczyk was discovered by the Festival d’automne à Paris, and started writing several pieces for piano, cello, string quartet, ensembles and chamber choir. In 2000, he received the Prix Hervé Dugardin and the Prix de la SACEM for his orchestral piece Ruines.
His subsequent collaboration with artist Christian Boltanski gave him new perspectives on his music. With lighting designer Jean Kalman, he created a dozen pieces in France and abroad in locations ranging from opera houses to spaces dedicated to contemporary art. In the meantime, he developed new forms of musical creations for various media: theater (Je ris de me voir si belle with J. Brochen), readings (Les Limbes, Absence, with E. Ostrovski), video (Private Joke with F. Salès), and dance (Purgatorio-In vision, with E. Greco and P.C. Scholten).
Always maintaining strong links to the classical repertoire, Krawczyk collaborated with Accentus Choir conductor Laurence Equilbey and with cellist Sonia Wieder-Atherton. In 2009, upon Peter Brook’s request, he conceived and interpreted a musical accompaniment for Shakespeare’s sonnets (Love is my Sin). They continued their collaboration with Marie-Hélène Estienne on A Magic Flute, a 2010 free adaptation of Mozart’s opera at the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord.
His most recent major work, “Polvere, for solo cello, instrumental ensemble, and choir” was created in 2010 at the Grand Palais (Monumenta-Christian Boltanski) and subsequently performed in New York, Milan, and Bologna. He is currently working on his third string quartet.
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As the first contemporary arts institution in the region, the arrival of OZ transforms the cultural landscape of Nashville. Through a year-round program of performing and visual arts events, OZ supports the creative explorations of leading artists from around the world and inspire curious audiences of all ages. Nashville’s Ozgener family established the non-profit OZ in the building that once housed their cigar company, C.A.O. Under their leadership, OZ has been transformed into a column-free, 10,000 square-foot performance and installation venue nestled amidst artfully landscaped grounds.
In addition to presenting celebrated national and international artists, OZ serves as a catalyst for local creativity. The organization provides a platform for local artists through the monthly TNT (Thursday Night Things) series.
OZ’s first season is programmed by Artistic Director Lauren Snelling, who came to the organization following posts at the Park Avenue Armory in New York and the Melbourne International Arts Festival in Australia. She has engaged the artists in collaboration with one of the world’s foremost curators, Kristy Edmunds, Executive and Artistic Director of the Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA and previously the Consulting Artistic Director for the Park Avenue Armory, the Artistic Director for the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and the Founding Executive & Artistic Director of the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) and the TBA Festival (Time-Based Art) in Portland, Ore.