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BWW Review: THE WETSUITMAN at The Cherry Artists' Collective

A Live and Livestreamed Play running through April 3rd

BWW Review: THE WETSUITMAN at The Cherry Artists' Collective

An old white man is walking his dog along the coast in Norway. He notices a black spot "out there in the distance". At first he thinks it may be an oil slick. His dog barks and goes near. The spot is a wetsuit. There are bones protruding from the flipper now in the dog's teeth. The Wetsuitman begins as a mysterious Scandinavian crime thriller.

An investigation commences. The tone is rather clinical yet also amusingly flippant. The characters self-knowingly refer to themselves as white middle aged Norwegians. The inspector notices that "the fin's lying next to the wetsuit / must have come off / can't see the face / just a wisp of dark hair / or is it just seaweed?"

Belgian playwright Freek Mariën has based this story on actual events but is a fictionalized account. This English translation by David McKay features sentence fragments which punctuate the uneasiness of the situation. A medical examiner arrives. He is described as white. "Norway is a country made for / accidents" he informs. The plot continues on its initial course of crime solving.

The narrative expands to another beach in another country. Part two is announced to be "the interviews / France and the Netherlands / bunch of white folks". A journalist dives into their reporting by talking with a beachcomber, the police, a tourism officer, a lifeguard, a beach bar owner and others. Perspectives are shared about these type of events. "They wash up / from all over the channel". The mystery continues but has increased sizably in scope.

Layer after layer, the tale exposes the crimes. This is not a standard issue whodunnit. Mr. Mariën imagines who might have washed up on shore, the how's and the why's. All of these white people trying to solve a case morphs into a study of race and refugees. The play ends in Syria with a family's conversation. The pathway there is stunning for its twisting frames of reference and the demands placed on the audience to plunge into the often unfathomable depths of our world.

Samuel Buggeln directed a cast of five actors who play dozens of roles. The set and costumes are simple and straightforward. There is storytelling clarity which gently and effectively peels the onion. The tonal layers are as varying as the characters themselves. People who enjoy a mystery will be hooked right from the start. Whether the solution will satisfy will depend on your perspective. That seems to be one intent of this absorbing meditation.

As all of us continue to comprehend the gigantic tragedy unfolding in Ukraine, migration once again dominates the news cycle. This important play urges zooming into specifics without abandoning a wider angled view. Individual tales are the real truths. Combining them creates a history. Looking into that mirror is hard and necessary. Perhaps one day we will collectively discover true compassion and evolve into something better than what we currently are.

The English language premiere of The Wetsuitman is being presented by The Cherry Arts Collective in Ithaca, New York through April 3, 2022. The production is also being livestreamed (designed by Karen L. Rodriguez and Greg Levins) during the run.

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