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“The clothes make the man” is a threadbare maxim, but in The Tailor of Inverness — which kicks off this season’s Brits Off Broadway series at 59E59 — it’s a gross understatement. For Mateusz Zajac, a Polish soldier marching across Europe, Russia, Iran, and North Africa between 1939 and 1948, changing uniforms came easily in the game of survival. But it would later bring more serious consequences.
Mateusz’s son, Matthew Zajac, compellingly pieces together his father’s patchwork of truths and omissions, then methodically unravels it, in this taught, monologic odyssey that spans continents, decades, and even vaster zones of the heart still marked by war. Deftly toggling between his own voice and that of his father (in four languages), Zajac fils is an arresting storyteller. Through him we learn that when his father finally settled in Scotland, using his dexterity with a needle and thread to support his new family, the identity he stitched for himself meant cutting out a significant part of his past.
Tim Reid’s maps and Zajac’s videos of his rediscovered Polish relations add documented authority, but unnecessarily so. Ben Harrison’s imaginatively muscular direction, which has Zajac jump-roping a garment rack and dancing the mazurka, better captures the confusion and vitality of the soldier who never returned home.
As tumultuous as the father’s story was, it was facilitated by the upheavals of WWII. Having learned a thing or two from the eponymous tailor, Matthew Zajac spins a suspenseful
version of events and a powerful reminder that, contrary to another well-worn adage, when it comes to love and war, woefully, all is not fair.