Important Hats of the Twentieth Century, now at the Manhatan Theatre Club, would be a perfect play if I were a frat brother watching a show that my brothers had cobbled together – a la “Let’s put on a show!” from the Andy Hardy movies. It would also be a hilarious piece of, say, The Hasty Pudding Club at Harvard. In other words, this is worthy of a brilliant collegiate one-off, the kind you would leave the theatre saying, “They should do this in New York.”
That is, of course, not what you would really mean. What you would really mean is, “Gee I would love to see something with the verve and vitality that these guys pulled off some placec in New York.”
Mind you, I may be in the minority, Bob Saget was sitting two seats away from me and was laughing laughing laughing. He may have tweeted already. As well, the preview audiece on the night in question was more than enthusiastic.
I, however, was watching time slip away and counting the tiny grains of sand as each on swooshed out of my life for good. And not because of the cast who was, to a person, mighty fine. In particular Remy Auberjonois had me so hooked that at first I didn’t know who he was. Like the majority of the cast he plays several characters and has costume changes that are so extreme and so fast that the wardrobe crew should be included in the curtain call.
My despair is over the story. To wit: The time is 1937. A Time Travel helmet designed by the “brilliant overweight scientist” Dr. Crom well has been stolen by Paul Roms (Matthew Saldivar) a clothing designer who wants to use it to see where fashion is headed (into the 1990’s unfortunately). His rival and social icon is the designer Sam Greevy (a hilarious Carson Elrod) is busy maintaining his position on the social ladder and being paranoid that Roms will over take him. In fact Roms already has by designing a sweatshirt – heretofore unheard of. Where Greevy believes in looks and glamour – he is the exclusive designer for Julie Bourdaine, a radio star whom we never see – and making a woman feel beautiful and therefore confident, Roms wants people to buy his designs for the way the clothing feels. They can even try them on in his studio and buy on the spot. Egad.
Roms is on this mission because he has been wearing the helmet (names Caroline) visiting the late 1990’s and stealing clotting. We see him enter the bedroom of a petulant boy (Jon Bass) whose whining is only stopped when Roms bursts from his closet – pause here for overwritten scene where JOnathan confronts his parents. On his second entry, Paul is confronted by Jonathan’s father Darryl (Triney Sandoval) who will not fare well in the past and will end up returning as a Big Foot clone who jerks off in the time travel helmet.
I am so not kidding.
Sam, while fighting to keep his claws secured to the top fashion scene (which is covered in several truly funny scenes by two radio announcers played by Auberjonois and Bass)has left his wife and is living with the newspaper reporter T.B. Doyle (John Behlmann is perfect as the “straight man”), who covers fashion, crime and anything else the boss throws his way. This should include the “eerie glowing orbs” that are floating around southern Manhattan in a menacing way, but because they are not actually harming anyone there is little attention being paid.
Events escalate, and soon Roms is the designer du jour because of his visits into the future. Driven a little bath, Greevy designs a metal hat – like the one ROms is rumored to have – for Bourdaine. This, incidentally is the only designer hat we ever see. Bourdaine wears it, but it proves too heavy and she breaks her neck. Greevy is driven further into madness and soon end up in a struggle with Roms over the Time Machine chapeau. They travel back and forth in time, and lets’ just say it does not end well for Roms. 1998 was not a good look.
Greevy ends up back in the Big Apple ready to design clothes for ordinary folks and back in the arms of his true love Doyle.
There are some very very clever scenes dotted here and there, and these actors (ONE woman in the bunch – surprise) know exactly what to do with every minute they are on stage. Their skill, and the work put in by the director Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Hand To God) is not enough to pull this material up from the level of college skit to a grown up Off Broadway show. Jones falls somewhere between the Three Stooges and the Marx Brothers. Somewhere between idiotic and brilliant. Call it No Man’s Land, and save your shekels for a hot fudge sundae.
Important Hats of the Twentieth Century – By Nick Jones; directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
WITH: Remy Auberjonois (Dr. Cromwell/Others), Jon Bass (Jonathan/Others), John Behlmann (T. B. Doyle), Reed Campbell (Kern), Carson Elrod (Sam Greevy), Maria Elena Ramirez (Bev/Others), Matthew Saldivar (Paul Roms), Triney Sandoval (Darryl/Others) and Henry Vick (Jimmy the Button Man/Others).
Sets by Timothy R. Mackabee; costumes by Jennifer Moeller; lighting by Jason Lyons; music and sound by Palmer Hefferan; hair and wig design by Leah J. Loukas; fight director, Robert Westley; production stage manager, Rachel Bauder; general managers, Florie Seery and Lindsey Sag; production manager, Joshua Helman; associate artistic producer, Stephen M. Kaus; line producer, Nicki Hunter. Presented by Manhattan Theater Club, Lynne Meadow, artistic director; Barry Grove, executive producer. Through Dec. 13 at the Studio at Stage II, City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan; 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org. Running time: 2 hours.