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The Tailor of Inverness

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Matthew Zajac
Photo by Tim Morozzo

As World War II ripped its way across Europe from 1939-1945, it left countless victims in its wake. And when the dust settled at war's end, many of those who survived its ugly claws left their homelands and put down roots elsewhere. The Tailor of Inverness, a Dogstar Theatre Company production in performance as part of the Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters, tells the story of one of these émigrés, a man who took his secrets to the grave.

A 75-minute one-man show, The Tailor of Inverness is part bioplay, part history and geography lesson, and part mystery —one that is not ever fully solved. Starring its playwright, Matthew Zajac, it recounts the story of his father, Mateusz Zajac, the titular tailor-turned-reluctant soldier who made his way via a winding route that took him from his home in Poland to Russia and then south and west across Persia, Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and into Italy and eventually to Scotland, where his brother had previously settled.

It was not uncommon, of course, for refugees to be tight-lipped about their past, either to avoid stirring up painful memories, or to avoid facing a reckoning for indiscretions (or worse). As he found himself fitting into his new life, the senior Zajac told everyone that he had been a Polish soldier, was taken prisoner by the Soviets, then later endured near starvation in his journey that eventually led him to his new life.

Under Ben Harrison's direction, Matthew Zajac gives a spot-on performance enacting his father's story, using just a few props: a rack containing various soldiers' uniforms, a tailor's dummy, a scarf, and a few tools-of-the-trade. As the elder Mateusz, he speaks in a Polish-accented English (tinged, fittingly, with a Scottish lilt). At those times when memories flood back, he starts speaking, and even singing, in Polish (the audience is provided with projected translations), accompanied by an accomplished violinist, Aidan O'Rourke.

Later in the play, Matthew takes on the role of himself, sharing with us the information he gathered through research that filled in some of the gaps in his father's story. It does seem, for example, that his father served for a time in the armies of both Russia and Germany, as the tides of the war shifted. There was also this matter about a wife and daughter he left behind in Poland when he made his way to his new life. For Matthew, the most significant piece of the previously untold story was that of his Polish sister, whom he finally gets to meet. It brings him a sense of closure, but it also leaves you wondering if there are additional layers of Mateusz's story that remain buried.

There are times when The Tailor of Inverness does drag a bit as it attempts to balance explanations of geopolitics (lots of maps for us to look at) with dramatic effect. But the central performance is never less than compelling, and the play overall gives us a view of the impact of World War II on a segment of its victims whose stories we do not often get to hear.

The Tailor of Inverness
Through May 3
59E59 Theaters, Theater C, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: TicketCentral

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