Her husband has another love and she is tired of competing. Especially because his other love is a hat. Granted, it’s a good looking hat that serenades the man with expressive clarinet melodies but after decades of marriage, shouldn’t he at least be able to remember her name? What’s a wife to do?
This love triangle is the foundation of The Hub Theatre’s latest, and exceptionally entertaining production, A Man, His Wife, and His Hat.
Playwright Lauren Yee introduces us to a fantastical world where an all-knowing wall speaks, mail finds the recipient no matter where in time or place, a lost memory may be found in a jar, and love is the only thing that keeps a person from floating away. And did I mention the hungry Golum, an anthropomorphic being that may or may not mean harm?
Yee’s story, skillfully brought to life by Director Shirley Serotsky, transforms this surreal concoction into a heartwarming and laugh out loud fable about relationships, attachment, and what it means to love. Ms. Serotsky brings out terrific performances from the talented cast.
The “man” in the title is Hetchman (Sasha Olinick), a hatmaker who is considered by all other hatmakers to be the best in the business. He loves his hat and becomes bereft when it goes missing. He yells for his wife to find it but she is missing too. Olinick gives the schlumpy character a pathos despite the fact that in retirement he has become a couch potato who seems unwilling to get out of his recliner and leave his Cheetos, peanuts, and TV for any reason.
Kerri Rambow as Hetchman’s Wife is the heart and soul of the show. The role showcases her remarkable talent, who is a joy to watch. Rambow takes what could be a clichéd babushka caricature with Eastern European accent, headscarf, and sensible shoes and gives us an emotionally nuanced portrayal of an unhappy woman who just wants her husband to remember her name. Her conversation with the silent fedora changes the hat into a character rather than just a prop. And her ability to make us believe she is sitting on a moving train when perched on an unmoving stage is uncanny.
I am always a sucker for first-rate comedic performances and Maboud Ebrahimzadeh as Hetchman’s friend Meckel does not disappoint. We care about Hetchman because Meckel cares. Ebrahimzadeh combines strong acting with good comic timing. As he talks about his dead wife, who was “a little bit stupid,” we aren’t offended because it’s obvious that he loved her.
We first see Kristen Garaffo (in the role named “Voice”) as the play opens. She is soon to be married but her fiancé Gabe (Daniel Corey) is having trouble staying grounded. It will be some time before we learn how she is connected to this story within a story.
The final two members of the cast are especially noteworthy for their ability to create compelling characters in non-traditional ways. Chris Stinson is Golem and with nothing more than grunts and a body encased in a marvelous costume from Costume Designer Kelsey Hunt, Stinson gives emotion to the non-human creature. The Hub Theatre’s Artistic Director Helen Pafumi gives voice to the talking Wall. Her opening lines include two words repeated five or six times. Each time she is able to give a distinctive line reading that is connected to the action to come. The Wall comes alive for us and it quickly seems normal for the Wall to be conversing with the humans.
The entire production team deserves special recognition for their efforts that helped to make this performance the success that it is. The sets, lighting, sound, and props are all pitch perfect and never detract from the story.
Scenic Designer Leigh-Ann Friedel’s single set is familiar and unique. Arrive early enough so you have a chance to scrutinize all the interesting components, especially the wallpaper. I also liked the realistically worn look to the hardwood floor and the solid thud when the doors slam shut. Too often, stage doors just don’t have a lifelike sound. Given the time- and place-jumping components of the story, Lighting Designer Ken Wills’ choices are very effective in creating specific moods while ensuring the audience knows when and where we are in the story.
Sound Designer Patrick Calhoun is masterful in the understated use of sound effects. Just the hint of the sound of birds in the cemetery makes the Day of the Dead outing a fun occasion rather than a creepy event. And how does a memory in a jar look? Prop Designer Suzanne Maloney has effectively created a simple prop that makes me wish, for many reasons, that I could keep my memories in such a container.
Special shoutouts to three other members of the production team. Logistically, everything goes right in this fast-paced show with many shifting pieces. Technical Director Jameson Shroyer, Stage Manager Rebecca Griffith, and Assistant Stage Manager Rachel Lau do an excellent job keeping it all moving.
A final tip of the hat to Eric Shimelonis for his original music (performed by Ben Redwine and Shimelonis). The klezmer-inspired music gives a depth to this production that is significant.
A Man, His Wife, and His Hat is a fine, original production that will have you laughing and thinking. It will linger in my memory for weeks and months to come.
Running Time: Ninety minutes, with no intermission.
A Man, His Wife, and His Hat plays through April 28, 2013 at The John Swayze Theatre at the New School of Northern Virginia-9431 Silver King Court, in Fairfax, VA. For tickets, call (800) 494-8497, or purchase them online, or at the door.