Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

The Hatmaker's Wife
Ten Thousand Things Theater Company
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Kimberly Richardson and Jim Lichtscheidl
Photo by Tom Wallace
Most of us have heard the expression "If these walls could talk," as if the walls of a room would bear witness to the sundry goings on within it. Lauren Yee takes that notion to heart in her play The Hatmaker's Wife, which is now being staged in a delightfully droll and imaginative production by Ten Thousand Things Theater Company. The play, which runs ninety minutes without intermission, melds together a contemporary drama of an intimate relationship between a man and woman, both appearing to be in their late twenties / early thirties, with the story of an older couple from a past generation that is embroidered with magic–including that talking wall, as well as floating babies and a golem.

The older couple is the hatmaker, called Hetchman, and his wife, whom Hetchman simply calls "wife." Hetchman is known as the best hatmaker in the town. Also, his hats, if properly fitted, send "hat music" to the wearer of said hat, music that only the wearer can hear. Hetchman, now retired, spends his days watching television, munching snacks, and admiring his own beautifully fashioned hat, while Hetchman's Wife works night and day cleaning, laundering, cooking and shopping. She yearns for a hat of her own, but Hetchman has, for all sixty years of their life together, refused to make her a hat, noting that a hat for a woman is a foolish idea.

We meet the young couple as they are moving into a run-down but cozy suburban home. Gabe is optimistic about the possibilities for sprucing up their first home together, but his partner, whose name is never stated and listed in the program as "Voice," is skeptical. Increasingly, we sense that she is skeptical not only about the house, but about the relationship. The wall begins to produce sounds, which only she can hear, and then, appearing to her, Wall delivers, page by page, a manuscript telling the story of the Hatmaker and his wife, along with golem and their big-hearted and level-headed friend Meckel. She becomes fixated on the story, which she feels compelled to hide from Gabe.

The story increasingly becomes the center of her life, while Gabe becomes a mere tangent. Magical elements of the old story intrude on the modern one, while the issues between Voice and Gabe are seen to have antecedents in self-absorbed Hetchman and his tart wife. The golem–a lumpen, monstrous looking creature made of earth and clay possessing supernatural power, with origins in Jewish folklore–may be either a helpmate or a threat to Hetchman. Only Meckel, whose large, rambunctious family and slightly simple-minded wife stands in contrast to the austere tone of the Hatmaker's home, seems to be motivated by sheer goodness. When the connection between the older tale and the current story is revealed–and by then, many audience members will have guessed it–we understand how unresolved torments may be passed on and need to be resolved anew by each generation. Only Wall, the stalwart observer, retains a continuous memory of our collective through-stories.

Joel Sass, who directs this production, has a wealth of experience with whimsical stage work, much of it done at Open Eye Theatre, where he serves as artistic director. He draws out the humor, both in Lee's script and in the work of his talented actors, while not allowing it to obscure the depth of human need and sorrow that that serves as the play's foundation. Sass also designed the minimal set, which serves well as a run-down rental for a struggling young couple and a well-worn home for their long-married counterparts.

Jim Lichtscheidl, who is a genius at playing eccentrics, brings Hetchman the Hatmaker vividly to life with comical flair and physical flourishes. Kimberly Richardson's angular physicality perfectly embodies the prickly Hetchman's Wife, soured on a life of disappointment and drudgery. Both Richardson and Lichtscheidl deliver the old-world, Eastern European accents of their characters with a winning blend of affection and exaggeration. As their best friend, Pedro Bayón is completely charming, as his Meckel works to remain humble in spite of being clearly more enlightened and cleverer than Hetchman.

Gabe and Voice receive less time and attention than the Hatmaker and his wife, but because Voice reads their story aloud, we are able to see her in thrall of their tale, as well as her dismay over her own unsatisfying existence. Michelle de Joya enables us to feel sympathy for her character's inability to feel and to hope that her entanglement with her house's past history somehow delivers her into a happier future. Clay Man Soo, as Gabe, is wholly believable both in his enthusiasm for the life he is entering with his partner as they set up a home together, and his pained disappointment when that turns out to be a façade.

Tyson Forbes is both comical and formidable as Wall, a part well suited to his tall, hulking presence, and makes a touching Golem, remarkable for a character completely hidden beneath Sonya Berlovitz's wonderfully conceived earthen costume. Her costume for Wall is equally delightful–a full length, taupe-toned lab coat with fragments of faded wallpaper here and there adorned with an outdated floral print. The rest of the costumes–old world immigrant wear for Meckel, Hetchman and his Wife, Gen-X casual for Gabe and Voice–are spot on.

Noah Sommers Hass created props that are a suitable match to the fanciful nature of the old-time tale, such as bulky phones in primary colors, brightly painted jars containing memories stored up in the house, and precious pink babies that will float away unless anchored by love. Katherine Fried provides on-stage musical accompaniment and sound effects that continuously enliven the show.

The fanciful elements of the Hatmaker and his wife's story are well suited to the pared down performance style perfected by Ten Thousand Things. Their work has little in the way of a stage set and no stage lighting, and relies on imaginatively conceived props and costumes to transport us to different times and places. Their work plays on a tiny stage–typically a square space on the floor with two rows of eight chairs apiece on either side–and with all the lights on, allowing the shows to travel to such locations as community centers, adult learning programs, prisons, treatment centers, and dining halls for the homeless (where we saw The Hatmaker's Wife), reaching audiences who rarely, if ever, see live theatre. At our performance, one patron of the dining hall shouted a warning to the Hatmaker when he failed to recognize his wife as a person in her own right. Far from being a distraction, such total engagement underscores the truth embedded in a fanciful story.

I happened to see The Hatmaker's Wife on Valentine's day, and it was an apt choice, a testimonial to the importance of keeping love alive in our relationships, not allowing it to atrophy or fully dissolve. A final scene, with a welcome surprise, offers the prospect that love can be born, even upon an inheritance of neglect and ambivalence. We are left not knowing whether or not that will occur, but we are given every reason to believe that it can occur, and so there is hope for love to blossom. It's a lovely message, delivered by a warm-hearted play mounted with spools of imagination and affection.

The Hatmaker's Wife schedule is as follows: February 22, 2024 - March 3, 2024 at Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church; March 7, 2024 - March 17, 2024 at The Open Book. There is extremely limited ticket availability for free community-based performances through March 14, 2024. For tickets and information, please call 612-203-9502 or visit

Playwright: Lauren Yee; Director/Scenic Design: Joel Sass; Music Director: Katherine Fried; Costume Design: Sonya Berlovitz; Dramaturg: Isabella Dawis; Scenic & Props Artisan: Noah Sommers Hass; Stage Manager: Matthew Meeks; Production Manager: Ryan Volna-Rich.

Cast: Pedro Bayón (Meckel), Michelle de Joya (Voice), Tyson Forbes (Wall/Golem), Jim Lichtscheidl (Hetchman), Clay Man Soo (Gabe), Kimberly Richardson (Hetchman's Wife).