by Lisa Traiger
Walls talk, people float and monsters rise from beneath the floorboards in Lauren Yee’s unabashedly fantastical comedic drama A Man, His Wife, and His Hat.
Billed as “klezmer-inspired,” the play, produced by Hub Theatre at the New School of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, follows “number-one hatmaker” – and slob – Hetchman, his wife, and their neighbor Meckel. They live and work in a drab, Soviet-like environment where old school pay phones and oversized [analogue] televisions still exist. As foils, another couple – an unnamed woman called simply Voice and her fiance, Gabe – inhabit a tandem space in the 90-minute play. The action toggles back and forth between the couple, who live in our contemporaneous era, and the trio.
Hetchman, played with panache by the roly-poly Sasha Olinick, loves his simple life. He’s an Archie Bunker with a Russian accent who wears socks with his sandals, elastic-waisted pants and becomes one with his blue recliner, everything in his reach – snacks, an archaic TV remote and, most importantly, his fine feathered fedora. Hetchman loves his hat. In fact, he loves his hat more, it seems, than his wife, whom he calls simply Wife when he orders her around or bickers with her as she does the sweeping, laundry, and assorted chores. As Wife, Kerri Rambow, her loose hair tied back in a kerchief, clad in a drab sweater and skirt with socks that pool down at her ankles, looks like a babushka, a Russian grandmother, without the gray hair and wrinkles. Kelsey Hunt’s costumes are simply executed (save for the built from trash monster) but reveal much about the characters.
When Hetchman’s wife goes missing, this guy, who throws tissues on the floor and scratches any itch anywhere, barely notices, he’s so attached to his History Channel documentaries and Planter’s Peanuts. But oddities begin to occur. Upstairs in designer Leigh-Ann Friedel’s two-story set, the Voice reads and communicates with the Wall, voiced by Hub Theatre founder Helen Pafumi. Yes, in Yee’s play the Wall literally talks, and has much to say, in a Russian accent, no less.
What was a domestic snapshot, maybe a kitchen-table comedy, becomes a bizarre, time-twisting, memory-jogging adventure, with a Godzilla-like monster called Golem thrown in for good measure. Yee’s scenario gets more complicated and convoluted. I wish it got more musical, too; a klezmer clarinet and a little more movement might have added some sparkle to the plainness of the set, heighten the comedy and underscore the drama. Even though that multidoored set suggests farce (and recalls British-accented folks running in and out and slamming doors), playwright Yee doesn’t go there. Instead, in a longish 90-minutes she takes a poignant turn. Hetchman learns his lessons about life, love, appreciation, loss and yearning. For all its goofy beginnings, its ending is surprisingly heartfelt.
Director Shirley Serotsky, who is associate artistic director at Theater J, has pulled together a strong cast – in addition to Olinick and Rambow, Maboud Ebrahaimzadeh is comically caring as Meckel, the neighbor, while Kristen Garaffo and Daniel Corey as Voice and Gabe are the realistic modern couple, warts and all. And Helen Pafumi’s Russian-accented voice as Wall, is priceless, pushy, snappish and engaging.
A Man, A Wife, and His Hat is a small-ish play that holds a surprisingly big heart. Like the moment at a Jewish wedding when the groom breaks a glass to recall that even in joy there is also a bit of sadness, A Man, His Wife, and His Hat mines both the playful and painful times. It’s a fantasy told in real-life’s terms through comedy and tragedy and a beloved hat.
A Man, His Wife, and His Hat is on stage through April 28 at the Hub Theatre, John Swayze Theatre at the New School of Northern Virginia in Fairfax. Tickets, $30-$15, are available by calling 800-494-8497 or at www.thehubtheatre.org.