The Tailor-Made Man ★★★★ Stage Door Theatre | May 9 - Jul 31, 2024

Billy Haines was a major movie star in the silent era who managed to continue his success into the age of the talkies, but his film career came to an abrupt end when he clashed with MGM's co-founder, Louis B. Mayer. Haines' refusal to deny his homosexuality and to give up his partner and marry actress, Pola Negri, led Mayer to fire him and to suppress his films. As with any biographical work the playwright's challenge is to get beyond chronology and to find the essence of an individual, exploring how their way of being in the world speaks to an audience. Claudio Macor only partially succeeds in this task. The emphasis on exposition, which has actors stepping out of character to provide the narrative, is awkward and distracts from involvement with the people being portrayed. Macor casts Haines' story as a gay man struggling to lead an authentic life in the face of institutional homophobia, but that political lens on his life isn't really as interesting as the complex relationship with his partner, Jimmie Shields. Hugo Pilcher does a brilliant job of creating the impulsive and charming Billy, but unfortunately, beyond Jimmie's attraction to his partner's manic energy, we don't get much idea of what motivates him. His character and the pair's complicated connection seem underdeveloped, while the other players in Billy's drama are quite one-dimensional. As Marion Davies, Shelley Rivers puts in an entertaining performance, but she doesn't have a lot to work with. Ultimately, it is Pilcher's embodiment of the roguish and beguiling Billy that makes the show stand out. However, kudos also have to go to Janet Huckle for her extraordinary costumes. She manages to capture the glamour of Hollywood's golden age, just as Pilcher captures the randy resilience of its censored star.

Rated: ★★★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Peter Davies

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