Review: THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT at Pacific Resident Theatre

Don't miss this exquisite gem running through April 14th.

By: Mar. 17, 2024
Review: THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT at Pacific Resident Theatre
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The Bespoke Overcoat is a fable-like classic play at the award-winning Pacific Resident Theatre in Venice running through April 14th. Haunting, lyrical, lovely, and surprisingly funny, this humanist drama of magical realism by playwright, novelist, and screenwriter Wolf Mankowitz is a must-see.

Review: THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT at Pacific Resident Theatre
Harry Herman stars
in The Bespoke Overcoat

The play originated in London in 1953, and it later won an Oscar in its film adaptation.  The Bespoke Overcoat begins in a struggling, dreary postwar London.  Here we visit the tailor shops that are slowly going out of business, the factories that are grinding nonstop, the endless commutes on the Tube.  But this relentless cold city of poverty and struggle for survival is also a place of rich Jewish culture, old-fashioned craftsmanship, wisdom and humor, and of gentle, wistful, enchanting magic.

The poetic, dreamy, fable-like simplicity of this piece could easily turn into nothingness or mush in the wrong hands.  Luckily for us, The Bespoke Overcoat is masterfully done here by the magnificent creative team at the Pacific Resident Theatre.  The direction by Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson is pitch perfect, sensitive, and finely tuned.  It is a thing of beauty.

There are two absolutely stunning lead performances by Harry Herman and Robert Lesser.  As Fender, the elderly man dying of cold exposure in a factory where he has worked for forty years, Harry Herman brings a wealth of depth, endearing tetchiness, wisdom, realism, and humanity.  It is an astonishing, soul-stirring performance through and through.  Robert Lesser as brandy-loving tailor Morry stuns with his clarity and specificity, his charisma and heart.  He lands every moment exquisitely, with truthfulness and immense, captivating charm.  This is brilliant work.

Review: THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT at Pacific Resident Theatre
Robert Lesser and Harry Herman
star in The Bespoke Overcoat

Scenic design by Rich Rose and prop design by Doug Prazaak are intricate, textured, and richly evocative.  It is a truly gorgeous set, so exquisitely capturing the magical realism of The Bespoke Overcoat that you can feel the mood powerfully even before the play begins.  I was charmed by all the elaborate vintage details, the racks of midcentury coats, the tailor’s shop, little things like the long hook to retrieve the coats from the upper racks.  There is a thoughtful and intricate world-building in this production that really stands out to me.  Leigh Allen’s lighting design is brilliant, moody, delicate, and imaginative, even magical.

You wouldn’t expect a bittersweet, haunting tale to be this laugh-out-loud funny, but it is.  There is so much charm and sensitivity in this Pacific Resident Theatre production.  The Bespoke Overcoat is almost unbearably poignant, a drama of humanity and rare tenderness.

It is sobering to remember that this play premiered not a decade after the genocidal end of the Holocaust. In a time like ours, when poisonous antisemitism again has gripped the world stage, it feels remarkably beautiful and essential to celebrate and perform stories of Jewish culture and life.

You don’t want to miss this exquisite gem.

Photos by James Morris

The Bespoke Overcoat runs at the Pacific Resident Theatre through April 14th.  The Pacific Resident Theatre is located at 703 Venice Blvd.  Parking is free in the lot behind the theatre and on nearby streets.  You can get tickets by calling 310-822-8392 or by clicking the button below: