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Love and Death in Foreign Lands

“The Sorcerers” by Serge Goriely
Translated and directed by David Willinger
March 3 – 20, 2016
Presented at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue (at E.10th Str.)
Thurs-Sat. 8 PM, Sunday 3 Pm
Tickets: Box Office (212) 254-1109 www.theaterforthenewcity.net
General admission:$ 15 ; seniors/students: $ 7
Reviewed by Beate Hein Bennett, March 6, 2016

“An individual who is aware that he is the object of sorcery is thoroughly convinced that he is doomed according to the most solemn traditions of his group…On every occasion and by every action, the social body suggests death to the unfortunate victim who no longer hopes to escape what he considers to be his ineluctable fate.” --Claude Levi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology

Serge Goriely, a Belgian playwright, presents us with a witches’ brew of cultural entanglements, generational conflicts, and social upheaval—all presented through the lens of a family’s experience of love, marriage, birth and death. The play is an extended metaphor of the social conflicts that beset Europe as it is coming to grips with immigration from former colonies and political and economic refugees by the millions.

Joe Hewes-Clark as the husband, Nawa Kamate as his African wife. Photo by Remy.S.

The colonial legacy of Belgium with the African continent is at the heart of this particular play. The plot centers on the love relationship between a very young Belgian foreign correspondent, Luc (played with high octane energy by Joe Lewes-Clark) and Paula, a young woman he brought back home from Nigeria (played by Nawa Kamate with mesmerizing intensity).

The Belgian foreign correspondent's parents and grandmother as sorcerers. L-R: Tracy Rosten, Christina Glover Peacock, T. Scott Lilly. Photo by Remy.S.

The Chorus of three Sorcerers, representatives of the two older generations, comments on as well as interferes in the couple’s life as they try to make a home for themselves in his native Belgium. In this production, Sorcerer 1 is played by Tracy Rosten who metamorphoses into the Grandmother and an imaginary Dragon; Sorcerer 2 is played by Christina Glover Peacock who mostly becomes the voice of Luc’s Mother; Sorcerer 3, played by T. Scott Lilly, embodies Luc’s Father and an Immigration Inspector. All three also voice the inarticulate noises of the couple’s baby, named Nelson. When the three actors embody the Sorcerers, they don fantastical masks in shimmering blue, green, and red as well as silken cloaks and either move in choreographed circles or preside on high stools in the back or on the side of the stage—somewhat evocative of the three gods in Brecht’s “The Good Woman of Szechuan.”

The husband (Joe HewesClark) regards his baby. Photo by Remy.S.

Director David Willinger fulfills the playwright’s vision as described in the published script: “The scenes in which the Sorcerers are onstage should all be imbued with an atmosphere of unease and strangeness. They are not meant to be played realistically, but should rather suggest the interior lives of the protagonists.” The continuous play between exterior and interior reality, experienced by the characters at times simultaneously, creates strong moments of dramatic and verbal irony that demonstrates the harsh conflicts of interest among the characters and within society at large. Merope Vachlioti’s abstract black and white set design with mirror strips along the background emphasizes the unbridgeable conflicts that are felt with the intensity of life and death. Alexander Bartenieff’s lighting enables the rapid changes between real and surreal scenes. Brama Sukarma’s music underscores the shifting cultural spheres in the play. Susan Hemley’s costumes show the rapid shifts of modern life in a play with clashing cultural perspectives and two levels of reality—from the mundane middle-class attire, to the unacceptable exoticism of which Paula is accused by wearing colorful dresses that outline her body too much for proper bourgeois tastes, to the Sorcerers shimmering guises.

The husband's family snatches the baby. L-R: Tracy Rosten, Christina Glover Peacock, T. Scott Lilly. Photo by Remy.S.

The trajectory of the play, presented without intermission but with rapid-fire performances which David Willinger is known to exact from his actors, encompasses the entire tragic compound of misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misrepresentation to which individuals are subjected when they break out of their cultural boundaries (or comfort zone, as it is euphemistically called) and attempt to define for themselves the meaning of love. Is it really the common denominator as popular songs and sentimental slogans would have us believe? Will love enable us to truly understand each other, even in the most intimate of relationships? Will love be able to bridge all the differences between “us” and “them” whoever the “us” and the “them” are determined to be, politically or socially?

The last moments in the play are very touching: Luc brings an empty baby carriage to Paula’s grave. Baby Nelson’s cooing is sung by the trio of Sorcerers while Luc says to him:


The wife (Nawa Kamate) suffers under her in-law's spells. Photo by Remy.S.

“You can say whatever you like
To your mommy little one
Of course she can hear you even under that rock
What can you do with big people that’s the way it is sometimes
No she’s not taking a nap but she can’t get out
That’s just the way it is
But we have to listen to her too
Listen to her
You hear her
Listening to her is important.”

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