How much time does it take to say goodbye?
What is the best way to grieve?
When is the best time to pray for those who have left us?
Where does one go to settle scores with the dead?
Why do we love even once our beloved is gone?
I read director Joël Beddow’s note in the program before the play started and immediately knew that I would leave the show with more questions about time, love and death. In fact, I believe that the playwright, Lawrence Aronovitch, meant for the audience to turn inwards and explore their own unresolved or painful feelings of love lost.
The play is set in the early 1970s, in a tailor’s shop in New York City. It’s worth noting that the Stonewall riots that sparked the gay liberation movement and the fight for LGBTQ rights took place in 1969 in that very city.
Also worth considering is that although the play has Queer and intersectional elements in that it tells the love story between a Jewish tailor (Matt Pilipiak), the Duke of Windsor (David Whiteley) and a young Irish actor and musician named Jimmy (Isaac Giles), the focus of the play doesn’t seem to be to tell a gay love story.
One could suppose that some of the tailor’s hardships can be deemed to be particular to being a gay man in the 60s, and that the play intended to highlight them. For example, the tailor and the Duke have to keep their love affair secret, and the tailor is unable to give his father a grandchild and keep his own legacy going through the birth of a son. However, we understand today that those hardships are not exclusive to queer relationships and that a person’s sexual orientation doesn’t limit their opportunities, but rather it presents them differently.
The staging was quite simple with three chairs and fabric hanging from the ceiling, beautifully deflecting and trapping the light. Finishing the Suit was reminiscent of plays I saw just a few weeks ago at the undercurrents festival, which was not surprising since Mr. Aronovitch delivered a reading at New Play Tuesday during last year’s festival. I would have liked to have seen that reading, and subsequently the progress and direction the play ended up taking. The piece also had a distinct raw element to it, which I believe was necessary in order to properly explore its theme: how does one keep on living when all has been lost?
Our protagonist, the tailor, finds himself having to ask himself that very question, after having suffered numerous consecutive losses: we learn that he is making a morning coat in which the Duke of Windsor, who is also a past secret lover of his, is to be buried in. We also meet Jimmy, the tailor’s great love, who was tragically killed on Bloody Sunday during a visit back to Ireland to see his ill father. Furthermore, the tailor is mourning the fact that he has never had a son through which his legacy would be passed along, and we learn that his own father, whom he was very fond of, had passed away not long ago. Finally, the tailor is fighting to keep his craft and livelihood afloat in a world of industrialization and ready-to-wear fashion, and his identity as a tailor, and source of income of course, are in jeopardy.
The audience learns of the tailor’s losses through his memories and conversations with the Duke and Jimmy. It is unclear whether he is visited by their ghosts or if he is revisiting the memories in his mind. Is the tailor reliving his past and connections with his dead lovers and processing the events differently through a sort of re-enactment and re-assessment of what actually took place? Is he re-considering the Duke’s and Jimmy’s own experiences and identities and thus changing his perception of his relationships with them? I’d like to think so.
Finishing the Suit was reminiscent of plays I saw just a few weeks ago at the undercurrents festival.
There are brilliant moments where it is clear that the audience is seeing flashbacks of the tailor’s encounters with the Duke and Jimmy, but these flashbacks transition seemingly into interactions between all three characters, who had never actually been in each other’s presence at the same time while alive. The tailor gains a new understanding of those memories, and we see that through renewed perspective, he starts to heal.
In his despair and loneliness, the tailor would have had a good reason to look inward and try to make peace with his demons: he was fighting for his life. He needed to find that strength to go on living. Perhaps he was also able to look at his memories with a bit more objectivity, as time can separate us from the initial visceral and emotional interpretations of events.
Lastly, as I tried to figure out how much time had passed in the tailor’s mind and for how long he spoke again to the Duke and Jimmy, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of the old saying, “time heals all wounds.”
Finishing the Suit is playing at The Gladstone Theatre (910 Gladstone Ave) until March 11. The performance starts at 7:30pm and is approximately 70 minutes long with no intermission. Tickets cost $22–38 (incl. taxes and fees) and are available online at www.thegladstone.ca.