Theater Review - The Hatmaker's Wife (NY)

A sienna brown hat, a talking wall, a grunting, uncontrollable Golem, who presents bottles lit with memories, and a young woman character referred to only as Voice. These are some of the pieces of a mystical puzzle, which Lauren Yee weaves together to create an often wacky but often fascinating play entitled, “The Hatmaker's Wife”at Playwrights Horizons through September 21.

 

We meet a newly-wed couple---the girl, Voice, played by beautiful Stephanie Wright Thompson, who looks like Susan Sarandon, and Gabe, the chunky Frank Harts, who unfortunately also plays the Golem--- as they are moving into an old-fashioned home in the suburbs. They are not emotionally on the same page, for much to Gabe's dismay, his wife cannot feel or express love. In the flick of a hat, we also enter the lives of Hetchman, an elderly retired hatmaker, the journeyman actor David Margulies, and his long-suffering wife, a marvelously juicy Marcia Jean Kurtz. They obviously were the former tenants of this home. They relate with a special rapport, speaking with Yiddish accents as they throw insults at each other; she cleans the house and takes care of him, while he watches television. She has always wanted a hat; he refuses to make her one. She loves him, however the love he has for his hat reaches epic proportions. When he puts it on, enchanting original music by Ryan Rumery chimes in the air.  In fact, I think the title of this play should be “Hat Music!”  (The scene between these two veterans at the end is the best part of the show.)

 

Two things happen that cause havoc in Hetchman's life : First, his hat disappears; then his wife takes a powder. She shows up with the hat on a train, cleverly designed in a window.  Meanwhile, Hetchman's longtime friend, Meckel, the ever-ready Peter Friedman, tries to help him, and scenes flash back to Meckel's fling with Hetchman's grieving wife when they were young and a terrible scene when the Hetchmans lost their baby.  This was very confusing, because it seems as if the baby died and flies up to heaven. But in the next breath we are to believe the baby was adopted and turns out to be Gabe's wife. 

 

Stephanie Wright Thompson as Voice and narrator does a good job of catching the many pieces of paper that mysteriously fly down from the sky. They are filled with Hetchman's story, which she reads aloud. She is the only one who can hear the Wall Lady (Megan Byrne).  Rachel Chavkin directs all of this with a good steady hand, but even she, who did such a wonderful job with “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1912”, cannot make sense some of the confusions in this production.

 

“The Hatmaker's Wife” will play through September 21.       

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