Lawrence Aronovitch’s new play, Finishing The Suit, comes to us simply, without pretension. But this tender drama about a lonely gay tailor coming to terms with a crushing personal loss deserves attention from anyone who cares about good theatre.
This Bear @ Co. Production is at the Gladstone until March 11, and it may be recommended not only for a beautifully written 70-minute script, a piece both psychologically and culturally observant, but also for a trio of strong performances from Matt Pilipiak, Isaac Giles and David Whiteley.
Pilipiak is known to us only as The Tailor. And designer Ivo Valentik has given him a simple unadorned setting dominated by a tailor’s dummy and a stool. It’s 1972, somewhere in Manhattan, and Pilipiak’s character — bearded, quietly intense, himself impeccably dressed in a manner appropriate for a man whose job is to make a customer look his best — is putting the finishing touches to a morning coat, that emblem of East Side society.
Or does The Tailor really imagine it to be a mourning coat? In Pilipiak’s performance, The Tailor’s early chats with the audience have an easy. unforced naturalism as we begin to realize that he has suffered a terrible personal loss. He may enjoy success within the Broadway theatre community as “tailor to the stars” and he may be securely entrenched in an insecure trade, but he is now questioning his purpose in life and tussling with the challenges of his Jewish faith. There’s a palpable sadness in Pilipiak’s delicately crafted characterization — also, as we will discover, there’s a touching resilience.
Aronovitch’s script glides smoothly into another dimension as two defining figures from The Tailor’s past make ghostly entrances. One — of all people — is the Duke of Windsor, initially a somewhat chilly apparition in David Whiteley’s excellent performance. It’s a portrait of a starchy ex-monarch, still acutely conscious of class, determined to maintain an emotional remoteness yet ultimately revealing a vulnerability and a yearning which is all the more compelling by remaining largely unexplained. Whiteley, attentive to accent and body language, avoids caricature in favour of weariness of the soul. This is a man who has lost more than his throne.
We learn that the former King Edward Vlll was instrumental as a satisfied customer — and probably more than that — in providing The Tailor with a ticket to the stars. And this brought The Tailor to the real love of his life — an Irish chorus boy named Jimmy, whose death has now left him with an aching sense of loss. Isaac Giles plays Jimmy, and his jaunty spectral arrival on stage reminds us of how good theatre can dissolve boundaries and create endlessly new possibilities. Jimmy is brash and likeable, a rough diamond. He’s also intensely human as he confronts his lover’s grief and tries to lead him out of the tunnel of darkness.
Is Finishing The Suit really just a memory play? Or is it a richly rendered dream play? Or is it a venture into the supernatural? One could argue that it really doesn’t matter. Director Joel Beddows has delivered a sensitive, shimmering production that serves Lawrence Aronovitch’s fine script beautifully. It deserves an audience.
Finishing The Suit by Lawrence Aronovitch
A Bear @ Co production at the Gladstone to March 11
Director: Joël Beddows
Set: Ivo Valentik
Lighting: David Magladry
Sound: AL Connors
Costumes: Angela Haché
The Tailor…………………………………………………..Matt Pilipiak