Novelist and first-time playwright Suzanne Glass has discovered an arresting metaphor: Her milliner Wolfgang Georg (Michel Gill) dwells in a hat-mad world. A set of disembodied hats, lavishly realized by Lynne Mackey, even occasionally frames the stage. What Glass’s play crucially lacks is, so to speak, something on which to hang all those hats. To be sure, Wolfgang has his issues. His strained relations with women and his passions for fabric and colors both jostle for time with The Milliner‘s central dilemma: He is a Jew in 1930s Berlin. He sidesteps that fact’s brutal consequences by emigrating to England. The play itself drapes its Holocaust theme in genteel domestic drama and rhapsodies to emerald satin.
Gill’s fussily precise hatmaker is most compelling when the production matches his subtlety. Upon his 1946 return to Berlin, for instance, the vision of hats without owners that greets him evokes an entire murdered world. Mark Clements’s production, though, too often underlines the melodramatic elements of Glass’s story. Ominous, dissonant piano tinkling and phantasmagoric lighting cheapen Wolfgang’s encounters with anti-Semitism. The true horror of The Milliner is kept at a distance, its promising elements never fully realized, feathers without a cap.