Director and castmates agree: Daniel Gariépy IS Norman Davenport. Gregory Flis, director of The Gentleman Clothier, says, “If you see a gentleman with a neat cropped goatee, wearing a sports jacket and a bow tie, riding his bicycle on the bayfront, say, ‘Good day, Daniel!’”
“Daniel strikes me as a bit of an anachronism. He himself admits that he resembles a man who appears out of time with the present, and that is precisely how Norman Davenport, The Gentleman Clothier, is described,” says Flis.
“I should mention that casting is the toughest job a director has,” he adds. “You know this when you’ve cast correctly, because suddenly everything comes so much easier. I’m in that position.”
The Gentleman Clothier is a 2014 comedy opening May 31 at The Players’ Guild. Davenport, an expert tailor living in Halifax, feels out of place in the modern era. He was ‘born in the wrong century,’ and longs for the simpler, more dignified ways of the 19th century.
But Davenport has opened a new clothing store and needs to cater to 21st century tastes, however unwillingly. In short order, he takes on tailor Sophie Tomesko (Aimee Kessler Evans) as well as single father and ‘handyman,’ Patrick Markham (Key Straughan). Soon, Alisha Sparrow (Gail Edwards) enters the shop as its first customer and, unexpectedly, Davenport finds himself enchanted.
“Daniel was born to play Norman Davenport,” Edwards says warmly. “I'm so happy to finally be sharing the stage with him after having known him for 35 years. We first worked together on Waiting for the Parade here at The Players’ Guild in 1984.”
It isn’t just other people noting the kismet in the casting of the title role. Gariépy sees it himself: “I AM Norman Davenport. That is all. But seriously, there was something in this character that resonated with me. I really felt almost as though the part was written for me. And that’s actually quite scary, if you think about it.”
“While he could be seen as something of a buffoon or a prig, he actually has layers beneath,” he explains. “The challenge is to find ways to dovetail the many aspects of Norman Davenport and present him as real enough for the audience to actually care about, and perhaps even root for.”
And as the characters and relationships develop, and Davenport’s existence gets more complicated, an element of magic enters the story. But as the old saying goes: ‘Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.’
Norm Foster, the creator of The Gentleman Clothier, is described as the ‘most produced Canadian playwright’ in the history of the Canadian stage. Foster’s own website notes his plays are produced, on average, about 150 times a year. His popularity and prolific output is reflected on the playbills in the greater Hamilton area, where most seasons will see at least one of the local theatres mount one of Foster’s 60 plays. This is of no surprise to Gail Edwards. The Gentleman Clothier is “the fifth Norm Foster play I’ve acted in, and the third I’ve worked on as part of the crew.”
“I enjoy acting in Mr. Foster’s plays because I find his dialogue to be very natural which helps in making his characters equally natural,” she explains. She calls the plays “guaranteed crowd pleasers, providing genuine laughs as well as some tender moments along the way.” A wide range of theatregoers enjoy the productions, and those resulting full houses, “keep theatres flourishing!”
Flis also points to the ‘uniquely Canadian’ aspects of the Foster plays with which he’s familiar, that often incorporate “locations like the cottage, cabin or resort, references to fishing and hockey. Some references are fairly universal, like golf, but typical Canadian audiences can always relate.” A strong thread of humour also runs through the plays, even his more serious ones. Audiences can reliably expect a good time.
For Gariépy, it’s even more straightforward: “I think theatre companies realized long ago that single set, small cast comedies can be absolute gold mines,” he says, adding, “Audiences love a rousing, high energy comedy where they can just park their brains and enjoy the hijinks.”
Behind the scenes, a experienced team of volunteers have lent their wisdom, ‘craftsmanship, and artistry’ to the production, and Flis calls the efforts of the entire production team ‘invaluable.’ While Flis has directed several plays at Drury Lane, this is his first time directing at The Players’ Guild, and he highlights stage manager Colleen Wray’s memory and attention to detail as well as co producer Lawrence Hamilton’s steadiness and optimism as indispensable assets.
“I think a wide variety of theatregoers will like The Gentleman Clothier,” Flis says. “Those who enjoy comedy, particularly Norm Foster shows; those who enjoy some emotional and intellectual stimulation; and even those who enjoy the genre of time travel!”
The Gentleman Clothier himself, Gariépy echoes those sentiments: “The play will have appeal for anyone who wants a lighthearted evening and a lot of laughs. Also….there’s TIME TRAVEL! (who doesn’t like that?!)”V
The Gentleman Clothier
May 31, June 1, 6-8 and 13-15, 8 PM
And June 2, 8 and 15, 2 PM (Matinees)
The Players’ Guild of Hamilton
80 Queen St. South
Box office: (905) 529 - 0284; firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets: $30 ($25 for Thursday performances)