Review by Danny Gaisin
Even a supposed maven can occasionally overlook a gem. ‘Methought’ Port Dover was strictly the locale for affordable yellow perch, except for the Friday 13th, biker extravaganzas. Nope, it’s also home to the LIGHTHOUSE THEATRE, a 3½ decade-old professional operation which attracts thespians of the highest echelon and audiences willing to drive distances each way to attend its more than just competent offerings. Norm Foster’s newest comedy, “THE GENTLEMAN CLOTHIER” premiers at the Lighthouse and epitomizes its superlative standards. Photo courtesy of Adam Veri
Foster has taken a page out of Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee”; Wells’ “TIME MACHINE”; and Bellamy’s “Looking Backward” to humorously illustrate the adage about ‘Be careful what you wish for, etc.”. In this iteration, a contemporary Haligonian is just about to open a shop. He is harassed by a young beatnik-ish lady who insists on becoming his tailor and instigates herself into his operation and life. Customer no. 1 is an attractive matron wanting a suit for her husband and Foster telegraphs that sparks will fly betwixt them. The last of the ménage is a young widower desperately needing a job. The catalyst role is said storekeeper‘s, and his longing for an earlier less stressful time when clothes made the man. Obviously the narrative requires forsaking science & practicality; but once accomplished, this is a delightful & imaginative probing into relationships, insight and sensitivity. We loved it from start to final curtain.
Director Chris McHarge has conscripted four perfectly suited (pun intended) character representatives. As the owner of Davenport’s Men’s Wear; Brian Paul is so descriptively pedantic and starched as to be more than just a stereotype…he’s familiar. Paul has the knack of comedic timing down to an instinctive science. He may be the pivotal character but his two female nemesis-es; Sophia Fabiilli as ‘Sophie’ the tailor; and Heather Hodgson as his customer/cum objet d’amour. Fabiilli possesses an innate talent for expressive body language. Posture and stance underscore every bon mot or bit of repartee that Foster created for her role. It’s almost like he had her in mind while devising the character.
Madame Customer is portrayed to the hilt by Heather Hodgson, and her ‘Alisha’ has an exceptionally mobile face. Even seated in the Gods if I missed a line or two; just watching her expression telegraphed not only what she said but its meaning and intent. Her high-wattage smile; and dramatic eyes transmit emotions and mind-sets. Physically, she too is a perfect fit (again pun intended) for the role. William Matthews is the single-parent employee and his Act II persona responding to Paul’s temporal errors consistently glean audience giggles.
The direction is faultless. Blocking is so effective that dialogue is projected and easily discerned. His attention to detail helps underscore each character’s stereotypes such as picayune re-positioning of items in a showcase, or ‘putschkying’ around with the suits & jackets. Speaking of clothes, the costumes by Alex Amini, especially Hodgson’s, are stylish & classic, for BOTH eras. The set designed by Eileen Earnshaw-Borghesan comfortably evokes every such shop this writer has visited.
Foster has incorporated some creative and memorable similes into his dialogue. There’s one exceptional line that explains emotion. “If we listened to our brain instead of our heart; it wouldn’t be called –Love; it would be called ALGEBRA”. Definitely words & philosophy to live by.
THE GENTLEMAN CLOTHIER runs until Sept. 13th (a Saturday!) and is sure to become another hit for Foster. Don’t miss the opportunity to see it before it goes mainstream and ‘Downtown’ expensive.