The Wetsuitman – Cherry Artspace, New York and online


Screenwriter: Freek Marien

Translator: David McKay

Director: Samuel Buggeln

Deep in the journey of what begins as an investigation into a probable murder in Norway, a company spokesperson in Calais, France, tells a reporter that ‘refugees are not sexy’ and don’t make a story everyone wants to hear. He tells her that if she “really can’t leave it alone”, she needs to “hook them up” and “tell them it’s a murder mystery or something”. One wonders if playwright Freek Mariën had this exact conversation with anyone in his life, as this is the journey traveled The man in the jumpsuitis now having its English premiere with the Cherry Artspace in Ithaca, New York.

Inspired by real facts, The man in the jumpsuit is an insightful exploration of the dark side of humanity. Doses of dark humor and harsh reality mingle to slowly reveal the truth behind the play’s opening event – a diving suit discovered on the edge of a Norwegian fjord, by an architect on a morning walk with his dog . A human bone protrudes from the suit.

From the difficulties encountered and the emotional baggage carried by the detectives who open the case, to the Syrian family introduced in the final scene, nothing turns out quite as it seems at first glance. There are no hard truths or easily discernible facts. The characters most willing to offer concrete statements are often the most questionable, with the least sympathy for others.

The cross-gender and cross-ethnic cast, with all of the actors verbalizing their descriptions of opposing characters as they move from person to person, reinforces the overall theme of an inherent shared humanity and the work it takes to maintain and remember that perspective on One and the Other. Within and alongside this general premise and examination of racism, Mariën deftly inserts commentary on modern technology, corporate optics, and journalistic sensibilities.

Director Samuel Buggeln uses minimal staging to his advantage, traveling between separate locations with simple scenery changes and occasional screen projections. Watching the live stream from home is a flawed adventure, with weird, sharp cuts and questionable camera placements that can negatively affect the in-person viewing experience. While this attempt to create a multi-dimensional streaming experience may take some practice, it’s put to good use, and some clear and helpful choices are put to good use. That the attempt itself is employed deserves praise.

Perceived glitches aside, both technologically and with ultimately inconsequential character development choices, The man in the jumpsuit presents heavy subjects with compassion and humour, and without imposing explicit judgment on the characters who embody the inferior traits of our societies. It honors people for whom respect and care have often been overlooked. It offers viewers the opportunity to see their best and their worst in other people’s stories, and it’s one of the greatest offerings a live performance can offer.

Until April 3, 2022


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