Take a journey through the centuries in Elmira Theatre Company’s production of The Gentleman Clothier, written by famed Canadian playwright Norm Foster.
The dramedy centres around Norman Davenport (Brian Otto), who fulfills his lifelong dream of opening up his own men’s clothing store in present-day Halifax, Nova Scotia. Despite his success with doing so, there is another wish of Norman’s that is a little harder to accomplish.
“Norman all his life has felt like he was born in the wrong century,” explained veteran director Thom Smith. “He thinks that if he were born in a different time, he’d be a much happier person because things were ‘better’ in that time.
“He is putting up with the distractions of the modern-day, and ends up meeting a couple of people.”
A bold Sophie Tomesko, played by ETC newcomer Jessica Blondin, bursts through the door of his clothing shop as though she owns the place. Sophie explains to Norman that she is an excellent tailor – her father and grandfather worked the job, making her a perfect fit at his clothing store.
She is not so much asking Norman as she is just getting down to work, no matter what he has to say on the issue.
Next, we meet Alisha Sparrow (Michelle Salmon), a socialite that Norman takes a liking to. Sparrow comes in looking for a suit for her husband, however, the store is still not open yet.
Rounding out the cast is Patrick Markham (James Noble), who comes in on the opening day of the shop, pulls on Norman’s heartstrings, and gets a job out of it.
“What ends up happening is Patrick convinces Norman that he needs to make a wish,” said Smith. “Norman makes this wish to be a tailor in 1894.”
After wishing on a ladybug, the dream becomes a reality, and the entire cast gets transported back to 19th century London.
“So at the end of the play, Norman has to make a decision to right what he has done,” said Smith. “He has the choice of staying in the past where he is happy now, or moving ahead and putting everything back to rights and coming back to being in the 21st century, where everyone’s life goes back to normal, as far as he knows. It’s a bit of a morality play; it’s a play about consequences.”
The story is guaranteed to make you think about your place in time. Otto said that when creating the character of Norman, he avoided looking at other interpretations of the character and made it his own.
“Most directors and acting teachers will tell you it’s all in the text,” said Otto. “Everything you need is in the text. Now you make your own interpretation on it – don’t copy someone else’s interpretation.”
He described the titular character as fastidious, well-dressed, and proud of his skills. To form Norman’s unique spoken accent, Otto found inspiration from a Canadian actor.
“I’ve been using Christopher Plummer – he’s Canadian, but he speaks with a sort of cultured, not quite British, but very cultured Canadian-British hybrid speech,” said Otto. “I’ve been trying to mimic that because I think it fits Norman’s character.”
The cast is a mix of newcomers and ETC veterans.
“Both Brian Otto and Michelle Salmon are very experienced actors,” said producer Bev Dietrich. “They have been with Elmira Theatre Company for a number of years.
“James was with us for the Sleepy Hollow, so this is his second time. But for Jessica, this is her first time with Elmira. They all have acting experience and that sort of thing.”
The play is also suited to audience members of all ages.
“It’s a fairly safe play,” said Smith. “It doesn’t deal with some of the other issues that other plays deal with that might not make it kid-friendly. The language isn’t an issue, and even the subject matter isn’t really difficult to wrap around it. It’s geared towards an all-encompassing age range.”
The Elmira Theatre Company production of The Gentleman Clothier runs February 1-16. Tickets are $20, available at the Centre In The Square box office in Kitchener by calling 519-578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977, online on the Centre In The Square or The Elmira Theatre Company’s websites. Along with the regular show, there’s a special Valentine’s Day package on February 14, with a dinner catered by Elmira’s Never Enough Thyme – dinner at 7 p.m., followed by the show at 8 p.m. Tickets are $63.