Time travel and haute (or not) couture make for a zany mix in Important Hats of the Twentieth Century, an amusing if slight romp by Nick Jones. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the play makes clever use of both its minimal set — a clothes rack, a door, a table — and its versatile actors, most of whom play multiple wacky parts. Initially set in the year 1937, it’s the tale of two rival young fashion designers vying for enduring fame. Sam Greevy (Carson Elrod) is the “King of Dresses” and “Lord of Lady’s Hats,” as he puts it; Paul Roms (Matthew Saldivar), a former schoolmate whose recent résumé includes janitor, is the up-and-comer whose revolutionary sweatshirts and tracksuits look circa the 1990s — which, it soon emerges, they are. Sam is the exclusive designer for a celebrity singer named Julie Bourdain, while Roms opens a factory to turn out his avant-garde slacker wear, including sneakers and jeans that ride revealingly low, hip-hop style.
The first act is laced with laugh-out-loud lines, but things flag in the second, when the play’s pivotal twentieth-century hat — a time machine in the form of a futuristic helmet equipped with an antenna — takes center stage. The comedy’s fabric unravels during the ensuing chaos, as various characters dart in and out of history — from the Roman times to the alien future (complete with mutant monsters) — and the snappy humor more or less disintegrates.
Important Hats of the Twentieth Century
By Nick Jones
Manhattan Theatre Club
New York City Center
131 West 55th Street