‘The Wetsuitman’ premieres in English at Cherry Artspace

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The Cherry Artists’ Collective will present Belgian playwright Freek Mariën The man in the jumpsuit at Cherry Artspace in Ithaca, New York. The play, a Scandinavian crime thriller about race and immigration, will run from March 25 to April 3. It can be seen in person or streamed live. This is the first time the play, translated by David McKay, will be heard in English. The man in the jumpsuit is led by Cherry Arts Artistic Director Samuel Buggeln and features Eric Brooks, Marc Gomes, Karl Gregory, Amoreena Wade and Sylvie Yntema.

The story takes place off the coast of Norway, as an architect walks his dog and discovers what turns out to be a combination near cliffs. A human bone hangs out of his leg hole.

The Cherry Artists’ Collective is comprised of professional artists from Ithaca and was recently featured at American Theater for its unique approach to creating theatre. In recent years, the Collective, supported by the non-profit association The Cherry Arts, has presented pieces from France, Germany, El Salvador, Argentina, Serbia, Quebec and Mexico. They have also commissioned innovative new works from writers based in Ithaca, developing pieces that are “radically local, radically international and formally innovative” in their multidisciplinary space. Buggeln led the collective and was its artistic director for five years.

I spoke to Buggeln about his work with the Cherry Artists’ Collective. We also discussed the return of live theater and Marïen’s involvement in this process.

Risa Sarachan: What drew you to this story?

Samuel Buggeln: Among other things, Le Cerise is a collective of artists, and we choose the shows by reading them in the salons and by talking about them. We focus on new translated plays from other countries. So few companies produce this stuff, that we engage with an extraordinary wealth of material. We’re always on the lookout for plays that blow us away, that ask big questions, that take us out of our established ways of thinking, and that manage to do all of that while being super entertaining. The man in the jumpsuit does all of these things. We feel lucky to show it to an English-speaking audience for the first time!

Sarachan: What do you hope this production will bring to its audience?

Buggeln: At the risk of sounding really heady, I would say that this piece really deals with a big question. How do we, as human beings, understand and connect with people we consider – superficially or deeply – not to be like us? That’s really the basic question of how to create a just society, which I hope we’re all thinking about in this tumultuous time that we live in. And the play poses this question not only to us as members of society, but as directors as well. So how does an actor play someone who doesn’t look like them or comes from the same place as them? Are they allowed to do this at all? It’s a big question in theater circles right now and we love that the play directly addresses the issue.

But the amazing thing that the playwright, Freek, has done is take this very deep question and explore it in a very fun way, with a lot of humor. The play begins as a kind of gripping murder mystery, then reinvents itself three times as a different play, if you will, creating different relationships between the actors, characters, and writer. It sounds complicated, but as it unfolds it’s so cool and challenging and really drives the story forward.

Sarachan: Besides directing The man in the jumpsuit, you are also the artistic director of The Cherry Arts. Why did you choose to create this company, and why did you decide to base it in Ithaca?

Buggeln: Like many people who live in this beautiful little town, I found myself here by chance: my partner took a professorship at Cornell. And I found myself surrounded by all these gifted artists, in many cases professors from one of the theater departments here (at Cornell or Ithaca College, which has one of the great theater programs in the country). A group of us came together to form the Cherry Artists’ Collective. We found there was an incredible audience here for the kind of work that appealed to us: exciting international plays that aren’t really produced in English anywhere else. Born out of the pressures of a New York-based freelance filmmaking career, it’s a wonderful and welcoming place to build a business and an artistic community.

Sarachan: To what extent, if any, did you work with playwright Freek Marïen on this project?

Buggeln: In that European way, Freek was pretty indifferent, assuming that somehow the director will make the piece his own. (One of the many interesting facets of working internationally is learning how theater is created differently in different places!) I had several conversations with Freek, clarifying what he meant at any given time, or a structural theme or gambit. He’s a really nice guy and a very exciting and creative thinker. I have also been in communication with the translator, David McKay, getting his understand how a turn of phrase works in the original text and how to best adapt it to English. It’s always an exciting network of collaborations, bringing a text to life in English for the first time. We know this coin is a great coin in its country of origin. So what kind of play will it be here, and in English?

Sarachan: What’s it like going back to the theater in person?

Buggeln: It’s great, of course. To be fair, we’ve been doing a number of in-person games throughout the pandemic moving outside in different ways. And we created three fairly elaborate productions that were purely live-streamed. We got a lot of attention for these streaming shows – cover in American Theater magazine, stuff like that. And The man in the jumpsuit will be our second hybrid production, a shape that we are very excited about. We’ve gained a very geographically diverse audience during the pandemic, people from all over who have dug into our streaming shows. So now we’re excited to explore this new form, productions designed to simultaneously deliver an excellent intentional feeling experience, both for in-person audiences and for streaming audiences worldwide.

Sarachan: How can people stream this production live?

Buggeln: It’s easy! Simply go to www.thecherry.org and click the button to reserve your streaming ticket. The day before the show, we’ll email you the link to the page where you can watch the stream! But this is a live stream – you’ll be watching the show in real time – so make sure you’re on time, even at home!

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Tickets for The man in the jumpsuit can be purchased here.


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