In their final production of the season, The Hamilton Players’ Guild presents, The Gentleman Clothier, directed by Greg Flis and produced by Lynne Jamieson and Lawrence Hamilton. Yes, it’s Norm Foster again. Not a season of theatre goes by in the Hammer without one or the other of the surrounding local theatres drawing on a Foster play. This trend hits the professional, community and amateur level of theatre and the reason is easy to google. A quick search on line and you’ll find that Norm Foster is considered one of Canada’s most produced playwrights and has been for the last 25 years. That said, his scripts can be a little formulaic for my taste but it turns out The Gentleman Clothier surprisingly breaks the predictable mold.
It’s a magical tale with shades of It’s a Wonderful Life/ A Christmas Carol mixed together and peppered with social comment on the historical disregard for the voices of women and LGBTQ individuals. A strong lead and a pleasing ensemble kept Foster’s gratuitously long scenes interesting and some additional help with production values could have transformed it into a delightful fairytale experience.
In the lead role, Daniel Gariépy is the thorough embodiment of the anachronistic Norman Davenport. With every word and gesture, he confirms his deep asynchrony with the modern world. The supporting cast members mirror his commitment and so it’s easy to invest in his tale.
Gale Edwards as Alisha Sparrow is so charming it’s easy to imagine why Norman is willing to give up his confirmed bachelor status. What they have together on stage is chemistry and this chemistry also extends to Gariépy’s stage bond with his insistent employees: Patrick, played by Key Paul Straughan and Sophie, played by Aimee Kessler Evans.
Straughan finds footing in the second act as the world changes into historical London, and he speaks about the pace of life as a reflection of both the past and the future. It’s a light touch performance but it pays off in the end with a strong final twist….which I can’t tell you. Similarly, Kessler Evans wisely stays away from a stereotypical portrayal of Sophie as a lesbian. The writing might suggest otherwise but first and foremost she is a person and a tailor and this really speaks to her authenticity as a character and even deeper to the way society should approach all persons not as broad stroke types but as unique individuals.
Ultimately, the production works based on the magnetism of this cast but it doesn’t necessarily get a lot of support in the way that it’s imagined on stage. The set design is very attractive and works well as it travels through time. The beautiful stone wall piece outside the shop door, for instance is a classic touch but somehow the space isn’t used practically enough. Actors are often hung up in centre stage standing unnaturally for long periods of time. If a work place is common to a worker, they gather around certain spaces like the desk, the chair or the sofa. It’s not a natural human instinct to stand in the middle of a room so this makes some scenes feel awkward.
In addition, clever changes in the wood paneling create the opportunity for quick stock changes as the show shifts between time periods. This is a great idea but the innovation could be taken farther with the introduction of wheels making it easier for intrusive stage hands to complete set changes. There’s nothing like watching someone in a black outfit struggle with a set change, to distract an audience and dare I say squelch the enchantment of a production and this production should embody enchantment. For example, when the fateful wishes transmit our protagonist back and forth through time, some sort of lighting or sound affect would be helpful to support the very strong fairy–tale element of this piece.
Finally, the basic story here is a sweet little nugget with characters who will charm you with their humanity. It would have been nice to have a little more pixie dust thrown on the whole affair with some thoughtful production values, but that doesn’t mean you won’t remember the story of Norman Davenport and the choice he made. V
The Gentleman Clothier
June 6-8 and 13-15, 8 PM
And June 8 and 15, 2 PM (Matinees)
The Players’ Guild of Hamilton
80 Queen St. South
Box office: (905) 529 - 0284;
($25 for Thursday performances)