Tip o’ the Hat to Yee’s wacky theatrical fable

Hat Play 1
Jeff Garrett is Hetchman and Patricia Silver is Hetchman’s wife in the world premiere of Lauren Yee’s A Man, his Wife, and his Hat, an AlterTheater production. Below: Garrett’s Hetchman befriends a Golem played by Jonathan Deline. Photos by Benjamin Privitt

Talk about your unconventional love stories! Lauren Yee’s charming world-premiere play A Man, his Wife, and his Hat is a romance between an elderly hat maker and his favorite hat.

So where does this relationship leave the hat maker’s wife? Lonely and without a hat, that’s where. When she up and leaves, it’s hardly surprising. The only question was why was she with this chapeau-loving bozo in the first place?

There’s a lot that doesn’t make sense in this story, but that’s part of the point. Yee, working under commission from San Rafael’s AlterTheater has created a quirky fable with a decidedly Yiddish storytelling tilt.

It doesn’t all hold together in director Robin Stanton’s enjoyable production, though there’s genuine humor and emotion in abundance.

The core of the story – between Hetchman (Jeff Garrett) and his nameless wife (Patricia Silver) – is wry and compelling. Hetchman, who seems to live his life in an overstuffed easy chair, loses his hat. Then he loses his wife, which frankly doesn’t affect him nearly as much as the hat.

As Hetchman tells his wife, he’s not the “I love you type.” “I guess I’m the I-am-married-to-you-so-oh-well type.” Doesn’t he sound like a catch?

As played by the amiable Garrett, Hetchman is irascible and kvetchy but sort of sad. His only real contact with the world is his neighbor, Meckel (Ed Holmes), whose affection for the family is not without its ulterior motives. In Lee’s lovely, storyteller voice, we learn that Meckel “always lived in a giant hat-shaped shadow of Hetchman.”

Hat Play 2

The whimsy of the tale is highlighted by the character of Wall, voiced by Nakissa Etemad and brought to life through the video and sound design of Norman Kern. Wall is sort of a god-like presence, narrating and manipulating the story, sometimes in mischievous ways. There’s also an element of music – “hat music” as it’s called when someone joyfully dons a hat – that feels under-developed, though Daniel Savio’s clarinet-infused music is lovely.

Hetchman’s story takes an odd, not entirely rewarding turn with the introduction of a Golem, a sort of monster from Jewish lore that can be protective or dangerous.

Jonathan Deline makes for a disarming Golem, but his function here remains a bit too enigmatic.

The part of the play that doesn’t work as well involves a narrator known as Voice (Jeanette Harrison), who begins the play behind a podium but eventually becomes a major player in the plot – a little too major because her journey conflicts too much with Hetchman’s.

There’s also a movie-of-the-week quality to this part of the plot, even if Voice’s fiancé (Hugo E. Carbajal) is about to lose the battle with gravity and float up into the sky.

So why a contemporary Yiddish-lite fable? Why not? It’s exciting that Yee is pushing boundaries, paying homage to theatrical history, having fun with conventions and blending high-tech (the Wall) and ageless (clarinet music, Golems). It feels like A Man, his Wife, and his Hat is still a work in progress, but it’s a work of abundant delight.

Lauren Yee’s A Man, his Wife, and his Hat continues through Dec. 4 at AlterTheater’s temporary space, 1414 Fourth St., San Rafael. Tickets are $25. Visit www.altertheater.org.

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