Queer playwright Lawrence Aronovitch and his husband, director Joël Beddows, have teamed up to stage Finishing the Suit, premiering at the Gladstone in Ottawa on March 1, 2017.
Their previous collaboration, 2011’s The Lavender Railroad, resulted in three Prix Rideau awards, including best director for Beddows.
The new play takes place in a Jewish tailor’s shop and centres on a tailor finishing a morning suit as he reminisces and mourns about two men he loved.
Aronovitch discusses his new play, working with his husband and the Duke of Windsor in this edited interview.
Xtra: When you first met Joël, did you have any inkling you’d one day be referred as a “powerhouse duo” or an “award-winning” team?
Lawrence Aronovitch: Ah, no. We both work in the theatre and we’ve had the occasion to twice work on the same project and it’s gone quite well in both instances. It’s a professional relationship that works. The fact that there’s a personal relationship is actually not part of the equation in this context, other than we all have personal relationships with people we work with in the theatre and hopefully we get along with them and are able to create good theatre together.
You’ve said Finishing the Suit originated with a conversation with a tailor in Dublin who was going to make the suits for your wedding. What was it about that conversation that sparked the idea for this play?
He was telling stories about his life, career and his plans for the future, which from his perspective were looking a bit dim because this is a profession that he didn’t think had much future. Who goes to tailors to make suits anymore? Who wears suits anymore?
He was very much casting himself as the last of his kind and there was something that struck me as a bit bittersweet about that aspect of his story. I thought I could take the metaphor of making a suit and get a story out of it. That tailor in Dublin isn’t my tailor [in the play]. My tailor is a Jewish tailor from the lower east side in New York City.
The play is set in 1972, back when homosexuality was against the law. How does the history of the criminalization of being queer inform LGBT relationships today?
One of the reasons I thought it would be interesting to set the play as I had is to try and understand what it must have been like back then. I also set it in 1972 because that’s the year the Duke of Windsor died and the tailor used to make suits for him. Coming a few years after the Stonewall riots in New York City, it [gives us a chance] to reflect on what things were like. What kind of relationship was possible to have if you were a gay man? That’s what the tailor is reflecting on as he grapples with his own personal history.
The Duke of Windsor is still someone people talk about, especially with The Crown on Netflix. What made you want to write about him?
I wanted my tailor to be one of the world’s great tailors making the greatest of suits, so I looked for someone in mid-20th—century history who personified the wearing of the perfect suit. I think many people would agree that whatever else his life might have represented, as depicted in The Crown or elsewhere, the Duke of Windsor sure knew how to wear a suit.
Anything you’d like to add?
I have been so excited to work with all of the people involved with this project. The rehearsal process has been astonishingly wonderful for me as the playwright. The script got completely rewritten as a result of the kinds of questions that the director and actors and designers and stage managers and producers brought to the table. There’s no question in my mind whatsoever that the script, as it stands today, is far stronger than it was the first time these people sat around the table together. Everyone was so invested in making the work as good as it could possibly be. To the extent that it is successful, that really is due to everyone’s efforts.