Given a play titled A Man, his Wife and his Hat, you figure there has to be more than meets the eye. There is in Moxie Theatre’s production of MFA candidate Lauren Yee’s one-act play, staged just last year at UCSD’s Baldwin New Play Festival. With its parallel-time narrative, fanciful ruminations on love, marriage, temporality and death, A Man, his Wife and his Hat is an adventurous work that at some points goes astray and at others lingers and glows, like a moonbeam.
The play’s jumping-off point, old Hetchman’s beloved hat goes missing, and how that takes on weightier significance, brings to mind Nikolai Gogol’s short story “The Nose,” in which a Russian major’s schnoz wanders away. There are no pat explanations there or for Yee’s “klezmer-inspired love triangle,” as the Moxies call it (the love triangle involving Hetchman, his wife and the hat). With Yee’s play, it’s best to roll with the punches and give yourself up to its absurdities, like a glib and omniscient talking wall, a lumbering golem that eats human flesh or Cheetos, depending on the moment, and certain characters who defy gravity and float upward.
A Man, his Wife and his Hat would seem to address the quandaries of love in dissecting the uneasy relationship between Hetchman (Mark C. Petrich) and Hilda (Robin Christ) and that between their future grown daughter (Jennifer Eve Thorn) and her fiancée (Albert Park). But it’s not that elementary. The joy Hetchman experiences – and the music he hears – when wearing his hat is mere subtext: His fractured world and the one he would bequeath to his only child is not without joy, but one seemingly without anchor. Floating away is inevitable.
Moxie’s artful staging includes an underground space containing the golem (Lily Kelting, in what must be a sweltering costume) and a great wall (couldn’t resist) voiced offstage by Jo Anne Glover. Alternating light and darkness add to the illusion of wafting in and out of time.
An amusing beginning and a poignant, almost sentimental ending bookmark uneven antics on stage. Head-scratchers abound. That’s half the fun, or half the frustration. Wear your thinking cap, or hat as the case may be.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.