U of O prof directs haunting love triangle at The Gladstone

A sweet tale of nostalgia and romance, Finishing The Suit emanated charm the at The Gladstone on March 1  and was met with great reception and a supportive audience on opening night.

Written by playwright Lawrence Aronovitch, the story is set in 1970s New York and follows a successful Irish tailor as he struggles to finish a morning coat for an unspoken client. But in doing so he seems distracted, almost haunted, by his past. As a result, it is no surprise when the literal ghosts of his ex-lovers arrive on the scene—a young Irish dancer named Jimmy, and an inscrutable Duke called David.  

Although this play is set well into the past, it doesn’t come off as dated. This is especially true as the plot centres around three gay men in a time of social revolution and change, something that director Joël Beddows, a professor in the department of theatre at the University of Ottawa, felt was necessary.

“One of the key elements was thinking about how far the gay rights movement has come very quickly, because the play is set in ‘72,” explained Beddows. “There’s lots going on in terms of social rights movements and what would it be like to be in a gay relationship during this period. Just when it was beginning to be normalized to be … homosexual.”

For him, the play is a physical reminder of how far social movements have come in the modern age, and how quickly.  

“It’s not been an easy journey, and I think we tend to forget because we take things for granted. It’s a very fragile world we live in and these gains, which are wonderful, are easily lost if we don’t pay attention and don’t appreciate them for their worth,” he said.

The choice to maintain a fairly modern design for the costumes really helped to keep the audience members captivated and in tune with the character’s emotional states, not just their external appearance.

Designed by Angela Haché from the U of O department of theatre, the costumes really speak to the class differences between the characters. The tailor sports a rather traditional costume consisting of a tie, vest, and suspenders. Jimmy, on the other hand, is dressed in an outfit that every rag tag Irish lad can recognize: jeans, a mustard shirt, and a jumper. And then there’s the Duke, who stays consistently decked out in a full-fledged suit, presumably made by the tailor himself.

The set itself helped to bring the audience into the space of a tailor’s workshop, and it was also simple enough to not be distracting.

Instead of a backdrop or curtain hiding the back of the stage, long strips of black material were hung from the ceiling to give the setting a more chilling vibe. This is almost indicative of the tailor’s world, and the boundary separating him from the afterlife, where his deceased lovers now reside. As the characters made their entrances and exits through this boundary the black material fluttered, leaving the audience in a state of awe.

All things considered, the true wonder of this play is that it leaves audiences with incredible sympathy for the main character, but also with high hopes for what his life could be in the future.

For Beddows, the play’s beauty lies in the risk it took to get it off the ground in the first place.

“Theatre is moving more and more away from risk, and this was a very risky production because it’s a new playwright and a new script, and I hope that this is proof that you can be risky and still do very good theatre.”

Finishing The Suit runs until March 11 at The Gladstone. For ticket information, you can visit their website here.