BWW Reviews: Emotionally Charged SOLOMON AND MARION Makes US Premiere at Kennedy Center
The 2014 World Stages Festival at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts continues the trend of offering renowned theatrical works from companies around the globe with Lara Foot's Solomon and Marion, making its US premiere. Presented by the Baxter Theatre Centre at the University of Cape Town, this quietly compelling play gives us a micro-level glimpse into post-apartheid South Africa. A glimpse, I might add, that's very much worth your attention whether you happen to be a South Africa scholar, lover of all things theatrical, or simply someone who appreciates fine acting and playwriting every now and again.
Under the direction of Lara Foot, stage and screen star and Oscar nominee Dame Janet Suzman and Khayalethu Anthony are engaging as Marion and Solomon, respectively, and deliver nuanced performances. Marion - a defiant and fiercely independent Englishwoman who has lived in South Africa through all of its political turmoil - is now alone, lonely, and unclear as to what comes next for her. Her husband and children are either dead or living abroad and she struggles to find her place in the ever-changing society. Deeply held ideas about race, South Africa, and her own life experience are put to the test when Solomon comes to the door of her modest dwelling (designed by Patrick Curtis and subtly lit by Mannie Manim). Solomon, a savvy and young Black South African, is also grappling with the changing landscape of the country, but in different ways. Over the course of numerous visits and conversations, they form a unique bond, connect amidst their pain, and their experience in the 'new' South Africa - still dealing with turmoil, but of a different sort - provides a means to look at how these broad societal shifts have impacts at an individual level.
Suzman and Anthony quite naturally infuse humor with emotional pain into each of their decidedly on point portrayals, but what makes it impossible for the audience to even look away for an instant throughout the 70 minute performance is the way they depict the growing relationship between the unlikely pair. Suspicion on both sides of the other slowly gives way to a warm and lovely type of interaction. The change justifiably does not happen instantaneously, but the arc of the relationship is indeed apparent and appreciable thanks to the skill of both the actors and the director.
Likewise, the chemistry between the two actors playing Solomon and Marion is a necessary ingredient for the audience to become engaged in the story and its deeper commentary on the state of South Africa. This is in part because the movement in the play is not as reliant on action as it is on conversation, and Suzman and Anthony have the chemistry in spades. Likewise, the broader theme of the play - reconciliation in a fractured and wounded society - comes to the forefront thanks to their sophisticated portrayals. Although both of the characters Foot has provided us with are wonderfully rich, she's also able to use them to represent specific groups in the country and present a more generalized commentary on human interaction within the country at a specific point in history. No small feat. As portrayed by our illustrious pair of actors, we are not only able to appreciate the rich characterizations, but also what the characters represent.
The Baxter Theatre Center, it must be said, was one of the forces behind the unforgettable Mies Julie, which played the Shakespeare Theatre Company some months ago. Admittedly, that counted as one of my most memorable theatergoing experiences ever. With this offering, I became even more of their contributions to the global theatre scene and hope for further productions in this area.
Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission. "Solomon and Marion" ran through March 30, 2014 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
Pictured: Janet Suzman and Khayalethu Anthony in "Solomon and Marion". Photo by by Ruohin Coudyzer.