The Bespoke Overcoat – A Study in Humanity

Robert Lesser and Harry Herman in THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT - Photo by James Morris
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Based on a 1953 play by Wolf Mankowitz, a prolific and successful dramatist, novelist, and screenwriter, THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT was adapted from a short story by Nicolai Gogol called “The Overcoat.” In 1956, the play morphed into a British film which won the Oscar in 1957 for best short subject. While Gogol’s version took place in Russia, later adaptations moved the action to the East End of London. THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT has intermittently but rarely been brought to U.S. stages, but that changed in 2024. Produced and directed by Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson, the Pacific Resident Theatre proudly presents THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT to American audiences.

Bruce Nozick, Tobias Echeverria, and Robert Lesser – Photo by James Morris

Fender (Harry Herman) and Morry (Robert Lesser) are two elderly Jews who know what it is to be unappreciated and poor. Fender has been working as a lowly clerk in the Ranting and Company clothing warehouse for 43 years. He has been quietly and efficiently fulfilling his duties with only one major complaint. It’s very cold in the warehouse, and his overcoat has reached a see-through condition. When he timidly asks his boss, Mr. Ranting (Bruce Nozick), for a little heat, he is ridiculed – and remains chilled to the bone. Meanwhile, Morry – an excellent tailor at a time when professional tailors have gone the way of dodo birds – has barely enough clients to pay the rent – although he does manage to locate a bottle of vintage whiskey every evening. As it turns out, Fender and Morry have been good friends for years. When Fender approaches Morry for an overcoat repair, Morry must tell Fender the bad news – that there is not enough left of the coat to permit another repair. However, Morry offers to make Fender a new overcoat – and he will do it at cost because he knows that Fender needs the coat to survive.

Robert Lesser and Harry Herman – Photo by James Morris

So a deal is struck. But then catastrophe strikes. Ranting summarily fires Fender and hires a young man (Tobias Echeverria) to replace him. Now Fender does not have the money to pay for a new overcoat – but Morry finishes Finder’s overcoat anyway because he understands the dire straits his friend finds himself in. But years of freezing temperatures in the warehouse have taken their toll – and Fender has developed a cough which will not go away, a cough which has become serious enough to end his life, sort of. As it turns out, Fender returns from “the hotel down there” to visit his old friend and perhaps retrieve Morry’s new overcoat. At which point, the gentle and poignant tale suddenly takes a new and amusing turn which will prove fascinating and provocative for the audience. 

Tobias Echeverria and Bruce Nozick – Photo by James Morris

Co-directors Marilyn Fox and Dana Jackson do a superb job of enriching the nuances and quiet spots in the story to create a subtle and strong picture of two men with nothing – and yet everything. They are ably abetted by a strong cast led by Harry Herman and Robert Lesser, who bring Fender and Morry to life – while making Bruce Nozick the man you love to hate. Rich Rose’s intricate set design is perfect for the story, carefully supplemented by Audrey Eisner’s costumes, Leigh Allen’s lighting, and Chris Moscatiello’s sound. The audience will be transported to a quieter, moodier time when employees were not valued and money was king. Not so long ago – but also light years away from current philosophies. THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT will prove entertaining, fun, and thought-provoking – the perfect combination for today’s audiences.

Harry Herman – Photo by James Morris

THE BESPOKE OVERCOAT runs through April 21, 2024, with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and at 3 p.m. on Sundays. The Pacific Resident Theatre is located at 703 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets start at $35 -$45 ($35 Thursdays, seniors $10, students at door $12). For information and reservations, call 310-822-8392 or go online.

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