The Hatmaker’s Wife at UMass, a Bittersweet Comedy

The Hatmaker's Wife play at UmassTonight’s production of The Hatmaker’s Wife, by Lauren Yee, filled all but a few seats of the intimate round Curtain Theater at UMass. Everyone in the audience seemed to dive in as much as we did to this complex and multilayered tale of a hatmaker, his wife and a couple who move into a dingy apartment in the suburbs.

At the beginning of the whimsical, poignant comedy, we meet the breezy young couple, Gabe (Cameron Hoskins) and his wife, (Aracelli Sierra, called The Voice in the credits), who are moving boxes into a new house, farther away from the crowds of the city.

Things roll along as they adjust, and she wants to make a video of him walking in carrying the heavy box of books that he set down next to the box of pillows she carried in.  Too late.

In a few minutes, unbeknownst to Gabe, papers will begin falling to the stage, forming the basis for a sheaf of notes that The Voice keeps secret from her husband. He thinks it is more editing work from her job as a copywriter, but as each screech signals another page, the story comes alive, read by The Voice.

But in this apartment, the walls have a starring role….before we meet her, the Wall talks with the same Eastern European accent as the hatmaker Hetchman, and Hilda, the hatmaker’s sad wife (Kaliska Wiley).  At one point the wall opens up and the actress (Claudia Maurino) climbs out wearing an outfit with the same pattern as the dingy wallpaper. It’s the wall–live!

All the while, the hatmaker without his hat sits in his chair, dozing as the play goes on around him.

But Gabe can’t see or hear the Wall, and the Wall indeed has some stories to tell, starting with the hatmaker himself, Hetchman, who we see belching in his chair, gobbling Cheetos and refusing to get up even to look for his most beloved possession, his hat.

Nope, for this he calls once again on his downtrodden and sad wife, who until the very end of the play doesn’t even have a name that Hetchman calls her, she’s just ‘his wife.’  She works tirelessly, and never, ever gets loved, or touched, or even called by her name, Hilda. She’s just the hatmaker’s wife, and she doesn’t like it one bit.

The New Yorker in their review of the play when it debuted in 2013 described it as a bittersweet comedy and I think this is because there is a sadness in the loneliness of Hetchman’s wife, and in the tough situation Gabe is put through when The Voice, who he thought he loved, seems to turn away, with so many revelations coming up, she just can’t be sure about him.

Director Gina Kauffmann also directed the spring ’23 production of Silverthorne Theater’s The Cake, but this was a much different assignment, more of a magical realistic fable than that show that had the touchstone of a well-known court case and litigation.  Things were much different on this set, with characters like the Golem, (Sunny Nordberg) a mystical creature in a funny looking furry grey suit who symbolizes death, and also the talking wall as a character.

Another actor who stood out was Hetchman’s best friend, Meckel, (Aaron Mancaniello) who we suspect has been spending some extra-curricular time with Mrs Hetchman but who still manages to be a good friend to the hatmaker when his wife decides to steal that damn hat and leave him.  Meckel got some great laughs and kept up his best goofy Eastern European accent throughout.

There are many interesting scenes throughout the 1 hour 45 minute running time of this play. At one point the Golem is shown to be miraculous when it is revealed that it can find everything that the couple has lost in their apartment. Instantly on stage are Meckel’s missing toolbox and a dozen or so glowing jars that can talk.  When opened, the jars tell secrets that Golem has uncovered, and some of them are a bit too revealing.

“Something will always be not quite right,” comes one, a chilling prediction of the play’s ending.

The Hatmaker’s Wife, Directed by Gina Kaufmann, written by Lauren Yee, UMass Curtain Theater, Oct. 28, Nov. 1, 2, 3, & 4 at 7:30 p.m.. Matinee Nov. 4 at 2 p.m. tickets.