Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

THE SORCERERS to Run 3/3-20 at TNC

Belgian playwright Serge Goriely turns conventional notions of voodoo on their heads with his Strindbergian play of magic, lies and intolerance, "The Sorcerers." Theater for the New City will present the work's world premiere March 3 to 20, translated and directed by David Willinger.

The play is a modernist work about a Caucasian European photojournalist from a liberal family who has gone to Africa in his work and fallen in love with an African woman. He brings her back to Belgium and marries her, not anticipating resistance from his relatives and Belgian society to his very ordinary act. Weirdly, his open-minded, progressive family casts a spell on her.

The marriage is troubled as the wife, Paula, is constantly feeling "out of sorts." Hovering about the marriage is a chorus of three "sorcerers" - two women and a man -- who occasionally morph into the elder relatives of the husband. The photographer, named Luc, should be his wife's greatest defender but gradually turns against her. Initially, this is seen in his criticisms: what might be the benign bickering of a marriage conceals something much more sinister. He, too, is in fact turning into a sorcerer. When the wife becomes ill with mysterious symptoms, we think it may just be signs of her pregnancy, but the illness is deeper than that. A Strindbergian psychic murder is underway. The community withdraws as if she were already dead. She is being torn from Luc's family and excluded from the activities that were bringing her self-fulfillment. When their baby is born, a controversy erupts about whom it belongs to. The photographer's evil parents offer the couple a studio apartment in their building so they can be more attentive, but it is actually a ploy to spirit the baby away from its mother and take it for their own. The wife faces death as the sorcerers prevail over her desperate attempts to survive. When the child and father ultimately visit her grave in the cemetery, her husband regrets what he has done, but it is too late.

The play is written in a style that careens between an abstract, telegraphic style, with the characters speaking in eruptions and incomplete sentences, and hyper-realism. The production design will be magical and suggestive. The sorcerers are a chorus performing a mix of fable, dream and dark humor. They do not remain as witches, but transform into various other characters including Luc's parents and grandmother. They represent a malignant energy in Europe which wants to destroy the girl and are an encapsulation of all society.

David Willinger relates being impelled to bring the play to the stage right now as a metaphor of the xenophobia that is suddenly rampant in both European and American society. He says, "What we are supposed to take away is: when you strip away the politeness of the European, White, so-called civilized world, there is a 'Donald Trump' world, with a dangerous voodoo doctor lurking underneath who is just more dangerous-or toxic-than any you would find in Africa or Haiti."

Serge Goriely, a native of Brussels, was born into an artistic, intellectual family. He was founder of the Ciné-Club l'Ecole Européenne de Bruxelles and completed a degree in administrative engineering. Numerous travels around the world led to numerous photo and televised reports from Mexico where he worked for Televisa for an extended period. His participation in the reconstruction of the former Soviet Union under the aegis of the Commission of the European Community inspired his first play, "Jeviot Bizness." After turning his back on the business world, he studied theater at the University of Louvain and undertook playwriting and screenwriting whole hog. He is the author of numerous plays, including "Realdemokracy," "Cave Canem" and "Kimberley." He is also a filmmaker who has worked for Luxembourg, French, and Mexican television, directing numerous documentaries such as "Le Grand Raid: Le Cap-terre de Feu." His most recent films are "L'Ultimatum" and "L'Escale," which have shown at numerous international festivals. Goriely's plays and films jump back and forth between personal dramas and political issues with ease, humor, and clarity. They place the issue of lies front and center, whether they are found in the hypocrisy of family life, the trickiness of sexual seduction or the fundamental dishonesty underlying power structures.

The actors are Joe Hewes-Clark, Nawa Kamate, Christina Glover Peacock, T. Scott Lilly and Tracy Rosten. Music is by Brama Sukarma. Set design is by Merope Vachilioti. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff. Costume design is by Susan Hemley.

David Willinger (Translator, Director) has translated and published eight anthologies of French and Flemish-language plays, most recently "Four Millennial Plays From Belgium." He is writing a book about the Flemish director Ivo van Hove that will be coming out this year. He has directed world premieres of plays by Eduardo Machado, Jean-Claude Van Itallie and Adrienne Kennedy as well as plays by Hanoch Levin, Kalisky, Ghelderode and others. At City College of New York, where he is currently Chair of the Theater Department, he has directed approximately 30 plays.

His own plays, which he has also directed, include: "Andrea's Got Two Boyfriends," "Malcolm's Time," "Frida y Diego," "Bombing the Cradle," "Caprichos" and "The Trail of Tears: A Drama from the Historical Record," written with Peggy Dean. Has adapted and directed such novels as Joseph Conrad's "Secret Agent," Camus' "The Stranger," Carson McCullers's "Heart is a Lonely Hunter," Paul Willems' "The Wound," Dickens' "Martin Chuzzlewit," Ibarguengoitìa's "The Dead Girls" and most recently, William Saroyan's novel "Rock Wagram."

His musical productions include book and lyrics for a musical version of Isaac Bashevis Singer's "The Manor" under the title "The Open Gate," with music by Arthur Abrams; book and lyrics for "The Tale of Teiresias and the Idiot" that ran at Hartley House Theatre and an opera based on Hugo Claus's "The Life and Works of Leopold II" with composer Hellmuth Dusedau. His adaptation of Thomas Hardy's "The Mayor of Casterbridge," with score by Christopher Beste, was presented by TNC last Spring.

Willinger wrote the screenplay for and co-directed a full-length fiction film, "Lunatics, Lovers, and Actors," which has been shown at many festivals. He participated in Joseph Chaikin's Disabilities Project at the Public Theatre.

Theater for the New City has presented 15 productions written or directed by Willinger. He writes, "I am eternally grateful for Crystal Field's longstanding support of my creative work. As it does for so many playwrights and directors, it makes a huge difference for New York City's theater scene."

Related Articles

Featured on Stage Door

Shoutouts, Classes & More

More Hot Stories For You