“sometimes love is incompatible with one’s duties”
I loved this play’s premise.
Skilled playwright Lawrence Aronovitch stitches a piece so fine that its touch to your skin is that of raw silk: coarse yet pleasing. Its plausibility came on to me as would a lover, its story revealing itself as would an emotional undressing to nakedness. All that, with no more than the unbuttoning of a shirt.
Bear & Co.’s production of Finishing the Suit, at The Gladstone for a much-too-limited run until March 11th, is indeed a love story but a most unconventional one. Full of regret at what was not—“sometimes love is incompatible with one’s duties,” says the Tailor—it is nonetheless full of hope for what might yet be. In the middle is the struggle to come to terms with what is: the realisation that one man was in love with two others at once, though not within a love triangle.
The play opens with the unmistakable zzzzzzzzz of a sewing machine operating. Seconds later SNAP, something breaks. A bearded man with a measuring tape draped round his neck appears, annoyed that he must resort to a hand-stitch to meet the deadline of an eminent commission: finishing the mourning suit (in this instance with a ‘u’) for a client receiving a state funeral.
The Tailor (sewn up exquisitely by Matt Pilipiak) is a New York Jew whose talent, taught by his conservative synagogue-going father, made him not only costume-maker to Broadway shows but suit-maker to a king. Rather, an ex-king.
His client is none other than the Duke of Windsor (fashioned elegantly by David Whiteley), the erstwhile King Edward VIII who abdicated to marry the unacceptable American divorcee Mrs. Wallis Simpson.
(Upheld as one of the great love stories of the 20th century, it has since emerged that not only did Duchess Wallis cheat on the man who forfeited the British Crown for her but that he too, the Duke, had carried on a long-time love affair, a gay one, with his equerry nicknamed ‘Fruity.’)
It is therefore plausible that the Duke, for whom fine attire was de rigeur, would have engaged the services of an exceptional tailor recommended by his wife on a trip to New York. Equally plausible is that the Duke and his tailor could have been lovers, as this play so cheekily purports.
Their affair, it seems, was not lost on the Duchess. Despite having no role in the production other than ethereal nemesis, we learn how she made her jealousy and displeasure known by subjecting the Tailor to the cruellest of insults aimed at his faith, which takes aback even the Duke.
Pushing all these buttons to get at what’s been going on all along is the Tailor’s Irish boyfriend Jimmy (an impeccable fit by Isaac Giles). Jimmy’s ’Derry lilt and youthful cockiness is the antithesis of the Duke’s English refinement. There’s more jealousy afoot—“You didn’t make so much as a ribbon for me, Love,” digs Jimmy to the Tailor.
Most of Jimmy’s antipathy toward the Duke is political: British soldiers opened fire on Derry protestors and killed a dozen of them in the Bloody Sunday massacre.
Among those shot dead was Jimmy.
Joël Beddows coaxed seamlessly delivered accents from the principals, who likewise wove in notions of status and class into their roles. Look out for the kid from Sioux Lookout; Isaac Giles as Jimmy has all the makings of a William Hurt in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
The ribbons galore that set designer Ivo Valentik hung from the rafters (1200 yards in total, like so many unfolded neckties) and a few additional minimalist touches (a male tailor form shouldering the unfinished mourning suit, plus a tape measure) structured things just right.
Costume designer Angela Haché attired her men as befit their standing: a beige linen-looking suit comprising jacket, waistcoat and trousers, with a shirt and tie for the Duke; a white shirt, tie, dark vest and pants for the Tailor; leather jacket, t-shirt, jeans and sneakers for Jimmy.
Finishing the Suit is a fine piece of theatre whose quality acting tells a beguiling story that had me walking out believing something like this could have happened. I love when a play can do that.
Finishing the Suit
March 2-11, 2017
Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
910 Gladstone Avenue
Ottawa, ON K1R 6Y4
Tickets: (613) 233-4523
Allyson Domanski writes about travel, the arts and reviews theatre for Ottawa Tonite as well as for Newswest. She is currently completing a major work of creative non-fiction to be published in 2017. An avid traveller and not-quite year-round cyclist, she and her husband spent two and a half years bicycling around the world before she joined the territorial then the federal public service. The hockey and lacrosse mom, owner of a Husky and une cabane au Quebec hails from Winnipeg and has lived from India to Iqaluit but she and her family call Hintonburg home.