Highland fling

Kilt is funny & astute

In Jonathan Wilson’s new play Kilt, the garment in question is worn by Mac (Paul Braunstein), a young Scottish soldier fighting in the north African desert in 1942.

He’s a hero to his somewhat pretentious daughter Esther (Maja Ardal), a single mother and Highland dance instructor in a Hamilton mini-mall, so you can imagine her chagrin when the kilt shows up some 50 years later on her son Thomas (also played by Braunstein), a disaffected queer kid, who dances in a Toronto strip club (“The Ranch: All beef, all the time”) under the stage name Tartan Tom.

But what Esther doesn’t know, as she hauls Tom off to Mac’s funeral in Glasgow, is that her beloved dad was gay, too, and had an affair with a young captain named David (Brendan Wall) during the war.

Shifting between World War II and the present, Kilt examines how difficult it is break free from our self-imposed identities. Mac turns his back on his relationship with David and returns home after the war to marry and have kids; Tom is as turned off by, as he is enamoured with, his bar life; and Esther has fabricated a posh history for herself as a salve for her many disappointments.

Both broadly funny and emotionally astute, Kilt is a delight. Wilson has great affection for his characters. And the cast is uniformly good, capably pulling off the Scottish dialect and accents. Deborah Lambie’s Mary, Esther’s ditzy, yet deceptively smart, sister is played with scenery-chewing glee, and Gerard Parkes gives an affecting turn as the older David arriving in Glasgow for his former lover’s funeral.

There’s wonderful tenderness and subtlety in the scenes between young Mac and David in the desert, where the two must navigate their clandestine relationship across the divide of class and rank. The meeting between Tom and the older David, who sees the ghost of his former lover in the young man, is equally understated and effective, as the two push past their designated roles as chicken and hawk to truly connect.

If Kilt falters, it’s in the relationship between Tom and Esther. His bitchiness and her officiousness aren’t enough to explain the deep rancour between them and their tidy rapprochement at the end of the play doesn’t ring true.

That said, there’s enough in Kilt to both amuse and move.

Kilt continues until Sun, May 16 at the Tarragon Theatre (30 Bridgman Ave). Tix range from pay-what-you-can to $26; call (416) 531-1827.

Rachel Giese is a deputy national editor at The Globe and Mail and the former director of editorial at Xtra. She lives in Toronto and is an English speaker.

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