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REVIEW: The Gentleman Clothier full of heart, humour
Maria Dinn and Stephen Sparks star in The Gentleman Clothier at Theatre Orangeville until April 9.  Photo by Pete Patterson
 
REVIEW: The Gentleman Clothier full of heart, humour

by Chris Daponte

ORANGEVILLE - “Haven’t we all wondered if perhaps we were born too early or too late? That maybe we belong in a different time or a different place, or both?”

These sentiments, borrowed from the playbill notes of Norm Foster, form the premise of the playwright’s latest offering, The Gentleman Clothier.

On stage now at Theatre Orangeville, the production relays the story of bachelor Norman Davenport (played by Stephen Sparks), an experienced tailor opening his first shop in Nova Scotia.

An exacting professional who insists on running an impeccable operation, Davenport is not thrilled with the sudden arrival of Sophie (Maria Dinn), who fancies herself a great tailor, though she lacks tangible experience.

Yet despite Sophie’s limited resume and her tattooed, casual appearance that seems to run counter to everything Norman believes, she wins over the shop owner with her haberdashery know-how and her genealogical connection to the trade.

Davenport, who wasn’t planning on hiring anyone right away, agrees to employ Sophie. She then convinces her new boss to also hire Patrick (Jeff Hanson), who’s also inexperienced but is desperate to find a job to support his ailing daughter.

The shop’s first customer is Alisha (Heather Hodgson), a married member of high society with whom Norman is immediately smitten.

The new arrivals and the complication of his romantic life, not to mention his general disdain for technology and evolving social norms, cause Norman to long for a simpler time, specifically the turn of the 20th century, when people dressed well, “culture flourished” and politeness was “the order of the day.”

He makes a fateful wish to be transported back in time 100 years, and the second half of the play explores his transportation there.

Though some things do go his way, it doesn’t take long for Norman to realize the past is definitely not exactly what he had imagined. He also discovers he may not be as old-fashioned as he likes to think (perhaps foreshadowed by his contemporary views on sexual orientation, divorce and other topics).

Dinn, Hanson and Hodgson are all great, adding great depth to their respective characters, who couldn’t be more different from one another.

The star of the show, of course, is Sparks, who delivers his third consecutive spectacular performance at Theatre Orangeville, following Norman Bray in the Performance of His Life in 2015 and A Snow White Christmas in 2013.

Sparks expertly portrays all aspects of his character - from the painstakingly professional tailor to the concerned, dedicated friend worried about his friends’ hardships. His portrayal, combined with deft writing from Foster, help ensure Norman comes across as genuine instead of supercilious - not an easy task given the character’s persnickety tendencies.

The players obviously received great guidance from director David Nairn and the production is enhanced by those behind the scenes on the creative and production teams (for example, set designer Beckie Morris has again created a jewel befitting the subject matter).

The Gentleman Clothier may not contain as many side-splitting laughs as other Foster scripts, but it’s certainly not bereft of humour either - far from it.

As audiences have come to expect from the prolific playwright, The Gentleman Clothier features dynamic characters, each strong and vulnerable in their own way, and whose stories audiences will easily identify with.

It’s a fabulous play with heart and humour. And it contains several valuable lessons, most notably that forsaking what we have now for wistful dreams of another time and place is foolhardy.

The grass is not always greener, after all; things are seldom what they seem, and the past may not be as great as we imagine or recall.

The Gentleman Clothier plays five shows a week until April 9. For tickets call 1-800-424-1295 or visit theatreorangeville.ca.

March 31, 2017