Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Bonny Good Kilt
at the New Conservatory Theatre Center

Also see Richard's review of Spanked!

Colin Stuart and
Cheryl Smith

The New Conservatory Theatre Center opens its 2003-2004 season with the West Coast Premiere of Jonathan Wilson's romantic comedy Kilt, running thru October 12. The play, written by Canadian playwright Wilson, had its premiere in Toronto in 1999 and played in various cities in the country to the north. The American premiere occurred last year at The Directors Company in New York with Tovah Feldshuh heading the cast. It played only a brief time Off Broadway even with good reviews.

The "Scottish play" is part sensual comedy, part drama and part coming of age story about the sentimental journey of Tom (Colin Stuart), an exotic stripper in a gay club in Toronto. Tom's specialty is dancing the Highland Fling in his grandfather's kilt with nothing underneath the cloth. Needless to say, he is a great hit at the club and for private parties. However, our hero is not happy with his life, since he is heartbroken after a one year relationship with a Spanish male dancer. He has become very promiscuous but he is still bored with his life.

Entering the picture is his straight laced, obstinate Scottish mother Esther (Cheryl Smith) who supports herself teaching the Fling and other traditional dances at a school she runs. She tracks Tom down at the club and she is aghast at her son's wearing Grandfather MacPhail's kilt in the act. She also knows "the son has come out of the cupboard" and that his gay lifestyle is "trans-engineered." The play takes a dramatic turn when the death of Esther's father, Mac, a war hero, occurs in Scotland. Tom grudgingly accompanies Esther to Glasgow.

Once in that lowland city, and in the care of Esther's sister Mary (Kristi Scott), Tom comes face to face with his grandfather's past in the person of a mysterious older man David (John Hutchinson). Tom discovers that the heirloom kilt had a same sex turn on during the battle of Tobruck in World War II. Mac had an affair with a Major Lavery (Douglas Giorgis) during the famous battle in North Africa. The drama fuses both past and present very smoothly with excellent scenes taking place in North Africa in the '40s and present day Scotland.

Kilt's script has believable dialogue with forthright zingers to create an excellent performers' piece. The two hour production moves very smoothly and naturally in the hands of director Stephen Rupsch (who directed PINS and the The Crumple Zone). The play is witty, touching and sometimes a little bizarre, but none of this is ever forced upon the audience. The scene between Tom and senior citizen David in the second act is a brilliant piece of writing about gay love in the past vs. the present. David says to a younger person about the current gay life style. "You think you invented this? We came from a time of 'confirmed bachelors' and 'traveling companions.' When the war came, everyone was looking the other way. Everything was upside down and anything was possible." The playwright manages to a lot in this two hour period about love and accepting who we are and the people we love. Even the last line of the play sums it up as a character reads from Robert Burns' poem at Mac's funeral, "A man's a man for all that."

Kilt boasts a first rate cast and every actor gives a good performance. Cheryl Smith as Esther makes her character a complicated woman that you hate because of her contradictions, but you slowly warm up to her charms by the end of the play. Her opening monologue, teaching a class on the art of Scottish dancing, is a grand piece of acting.

Colin Stuart anchors the drama as both the son and grandfather during the war. He easily goes from Mac in flashbacks to the battle in North Africa sporting a lowland Scottish accent to a somewhat Canadian accent in the present. He also does a mean Highland Fling. Kristi Scott as the jovial Mary is a delight and gives a bouncy performance as the aunt that we wish we all had. She also does a mean dance to a Tom Jones record. John Hutchinson as a World War II vet give the most touching performance in the play, and his scene with Tom is one of the highlights of the whole production. Rounding out the cast is Douglas Giorgis as Major Lavery, the confused and mixed up British officer in the flashbacks. Giorgis, with only a week rehearsal since he was an emergency replacement, gives a fine performance as the officer afraid of shell fire.

Cat Stevans' set is excellent with three dimensional hills that could either be sand dunes in the flashbacks or hills of Scotland without the heather. There are two lackluster shards that represent the apartment in Glasgow on the left side of the stage. Lighting design by John Kelly is very effective especially in the battle and nights scenes in the '40s scenes.

Kilt plays thru October 12 at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness Ave at Market, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-861-8972 or on line at Currently playing in the other two theaters at the center are ManLady and Spanked!.

Lois Tema

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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