Theater Review: THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT (Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice)

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by Shari Barrett on March 29, 2024

in Theater-Los Angeles


Sometimes friends or even co-workers can become more like family than your relatives. Such is the case in Wolf Mankowitz’s The Bespoke Overcoat, inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s famous short story “The Overcoat about a long-suffering, poor warehouse clerk who seeks to obtain a new overcoat. After the play opened in London in 1953, Mankowitz adapted it into a film that won the Oscar for Best Short Subject in 1957.

Robert Lesser, Harry Herman

The son of a Jewish bookseller in London’s East End, Mankowitz was a prolific dramatist, novelist, and screenwriter known for depicting acts of humanity in a flawed but fascinating world. Reset by Mankowitz into the Jewish East End of London, his play is a tale of love and resilience told with dignity and humor. And in the hands of co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, assisted by Jody Fasanella, the current production by Pacific Resident Theatre speaks directly to the heart and soul of what it means to be friends and care for each other like family, no matter the obstacles in this life … or the next.

Bruce Nozick, Tobias Echeverria, Robert Lesser

The cast is led by the incredibly talented actor Robert Lester as Morry, who immediately sets the tone of poor garment workers in the 1930s by describing the situation he faced attempting to honor Fender (Harry Herman), the poor warehouse clerk for whom he made an overcoat 22 years ago. Fueled by guilt over Fender passing away from the cold before his new overcoat could be finished, Morry is visited by Fender from the other side who forgives him for the delay, but asks the tailor to assist him in breaking into the garment factory of Mr. Ranting (Bruce Nozick), where he worked for 43 years, so he can get the overcoat “owed” to him and finally rest in peace.

Tobias Echeverria, Bruce Nozick

As Morry and Fender team up to accomplish the deed, stories are shared from their past business relationship as customer and tailor, Fender’s emotional and physical suffering at the hands of Ranting, as well as what is going on in Ranting’s factory now with his new and younger clerk (Tobias Echeverria), who is not as dedicated to doing the job as well as Fender did for so many years. Frustrated by his new clerk’s desire to develop his muscles to attain the title of Mr. Universe, Ranting becomes even more demanding, making us realize just how correct Fender is in feeling how much a new overcoat is owed to him from his former boss.

Harry Herman

One of the most heartwarming as well as heartwrenching tales is told when Morry, “the finest tailor in town,is approached by Fender to repair his 22-yearold overcoat, now in rags and totally ineffective. As the two negotiate the cost of a new “bespoke” overcoat made specifically for Fender, we witness their developing friendship. Thus, when Fender returns from the other side to ask for Morry’s help, your heartstrings will hum as their Yiddish-infused banter seeks to allow their souls to rest in peace, in this world and the next. And I guarantee memories of your own loved ones who you hope are resting in peace will flood your thoughts as these two talented actors authentically share the lives of two friends as they work together to do just that.

Scenic design by Rich Rose effectively takes the audience from Ranting’s garment factory to Morry’s small coat shop, as well as other locations necessary to transport us to these two poor men’s world. Adding to the emotion-filled play’s environment are Leigh Allen’s lighting design, Audrey Eisner’s costume design (note how Morry wears his measuring tape like a tallis around his neck), Chris Moscatiello’s sound design, and Doug Prazak’s prop design.

photos by Vitor Martins

The Bespoke Overcoat
Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Boulevard in Venice
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 3
ends on April 21, 2024 EXTENDED to June 2, 2024
for tickets ($35 – $45; student rush $12), call 310.822.8392 or visit PRT
receive free coffee and a treat by donating clean, gently worn or new coat to support ONE WARM COAT

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