Finishing the Suit is a talky play into which the director and acting company infused plenty of love and angst.
By Paul Dervis
Ah, the end of summer, and the finale of the New York summer theatre festival season. For the last eight years the Theater for the New City, a staple of experimental work on the Lower East Side for over forty-five years, has presented works from around the country (and around the world) in this three week, twenty some odd show, extravaganza. It’s named, aptly enough, The Dream Up Festival, which runs through September 17.
The Festival opened with Canadian playwright Lawrence Aronovitch’s Finishing the Suit, a memory play that revolves around the unfinished business of a New York tailor, his one celebrity client, and his past (and passed) lover.
Daniel Lugo plays the aging tailor, who has lost his lover Jimmy (Ryan Clardy), a Broadway chorus dancer who’s claim to fame was his big turn in Camelot. Propelling the haberdasher further into loneliness, he also is without his famous client, the former Duke of Windsor, the King who abdicated his throne for Wallace Simpson. The play opens with Lugo at his table, an unfinished suit before him. As he mutters to himself, and the ghosts of his past arrive.
I have seen other plays of Aronovitch’s. A few years back he had a major production of his play about Marie Curie performed at the 299 seat Gladstone Theatre in Ottawa. He has also spent time as Playwright in Residence at the Great Canadian Theatre Company. A Harvard graduate, Aronovitch has the cerebral chops to portray historical figures in depth. But one of his weaknesses as a writer is that he occasionally approaches theater from an intellectual perspective rather than setting up emotional engagement with his characters. In Finishing the Suit, Aronovitch tells us about these intertwined lives instead of dramatizing effecting moments of conflict. When he presents scenes from their past (a romantic moment when Jimmy celebrates being cast in a Broadway show; the Duke’s first appearance at the tailor’s shop) this piece hits the right notes. Too often however, Aaronovitch settles for debate rather than revealing reminiscences.
Kudo to director Joan Kane (of Ego Actus) for tamping down on the talk whenever possible. She never lets the production get bogged down in gab; she does her best to keep the performers moving about the stage, letting their movements and expressions generate intimations of passion.
In terms of the cast, Lugo made some bold and daring choices. As the aging Jewish tailor, a conservative who is trying to make a separate peace with his very contemporary desires, he took some of his techniques from the respected tradition of Yiddish theatre. Did he overact? Maybe. But he made the shy and cloistered tailor a vivid figure, rather than doormat.
Both Clardy’s Jimmy and Jason Asher’s David (the Duke) seemed to be performing in a different play. Usually a clash between supporting cast members and the lead would be damning. But here it works, perhaps because their characters are so different from the tailor’s. Finishing the Suit is a talky play into which Kane and company infused plenty of love and angst.
New York is a late night town, and there is little better to do late at night then going to one of the numerous comedy clubs. I spent the wee hours of Tuesday in the New York Comedy Club on 24th Street. And it was pretty well packed. Of course, like all comedy clubs, there were major hits and even more major misses. One poor comic bombed so badly that she pretty much stopped talking all together.
But two performers made the seventeen dollar drink minimum (really? On a Tuesday night? 17 buck mini?) almost worthwhile…almost. Evan Williams worked the crowd masterfully, building not so much on one liners but winding tales of amusement based mostly at his own expense.
Ricky Valez, a regular at the bar and a ‘correspondent’ on Comedy Central’s The Nightly Show, was clearly taking the midweek night as an opportunity to work out new material. Though he at times went on a little too long with a bit, at times he pulled himself out of trouble and was quickly able to keep the audience laughing.
Paul Dervis has been teaching drama in Canada at Algonquin College as well as the theatre conservatory Ottawa School of Speech & Drama for the past 15 years.