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THEATER REVIEW: “A Man, His Wife And His Hat” has nary a dull moment

Playwright Lauren Yee’s universe is one in which people float away if not anchored by love, where the right hat serenades its wearer and memories are kept in little glass bottles.

This time-shifting, form-bending play also features an all-seeing Wall (Jo Anne Glover), the “wall of truth,” as it keeps insisting. And oh, yes, there’s a golem (Lily Kelting).

Retired hatmaker Hetchman (Mark C. Petrich) is spending his declining years in his easy chair in front of the TV, eating peanuts out of a jar and yelling (in broken, East European-inflected English) at his Wife to find his hat – you know, the one he always wears.

Hetchman’s Wife (Robin Christ), whose stooped posture and testy attitude tell the tale, has been married to this man for 60 years – and he can’t even remember her name. She’s annoyed – and jealous of his unholy attachment to that hat. She wants her own, but he’s never been willing to make her one.

One day she and the hat disappear. Thirty years later, he realizes that she (and it) are indeed gone and resolves to look for them. Tomorrow.

Hetchman’s lone friend Meckel (Fred Harlow) comes to commiserate and to pass on his own version of wisdom, which I’ll call the Love Corollary: “Love keep you grounded. Is true! ....The more love you have, the longer you live. The longer you live, the more love you need.”

Hetchman seems to have forgotten this, insisting “I do not need loving. I am not looking for wife. I am looking for hat.”

But he’s run out of peanuts. He finds some Cheetos, calling forth a Cheeto-eating golem from a trap door. The golem doesn’t talk much (grunting is a better word for it), but Hetchman hopes this is a stuff-finding golem, or at least a namefinding golem.

There’s another narrator – the dramatically problematic Voice (Jennifer Eve Thorn), clearly a modern character without accent, who reads Wall’s pronouncements and “stories” floated down on pieces of paper.

Thorn’s Voice does double duty as the love interest of the other modern character, young Gabe (Albert Park), who excitedly brings photos of possible flower arrangements for their wedding – until Voice finally tells him she is incapable of love, and he goes off to get a grounding hug from his mother.

Director Janet Hayatshahi paces the show well and has a terrific cast to work with, anchored by Glover’s Wall, a combination Greek chorus/Delphic oracle with an impish sense of humor.

Petrich is smile-inducing, even poignant as the man who seems to have forgotten that his wife is more important than that hat.

Christ is stunning as the put-upon Wife who only wants her due – or at least her own hat to love.

Harlow charms as the bumbling Meckel, who must teach his friend what really matters.

Thorn is excellent as the narrator Voice. It’s a little puzzling why she is asked to do double duty as the not-quite lover of Gabe. In fact, both of these young characters seem like add-ons and a bit redundant. It’s not difficult to take Hetchman’s lessons about love as a universal without resorting to confirmation from the younger generation.

Keating’s Golem is ... well, what can you say about a character dressed in muck who only grunts? Properly golemlike?

Kudos to the production team as well: Victoria Petrovich’s simple but fine set; Alina Bokovikova’s excellent costumes (especially for the golem); Sherrice Kelly’s effective lighting and Nicholas Drashner’s sound design and original music all add to the theatrical experience.

Yee’s approach is quirky, her humor biting, and – best of all – there isn’t a dull moment here. When I sent a few lines of the play to a friend, he said, “Oh, a Jewish play ripped from the pages of ‘Mad’ magazine.”

Not a bad description.

The details

“A Man, His Wife and His Hat” plays through April 29 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets, call (858) 598-7620 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.