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Review Roundup: IMPORTANT HATS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY Opens Off-Broadway

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Manhattan Theatre Club's world premiere of IMPORTANT HATS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, the new comedy by Emmy Award nominee Nick Jones, directed by Tony Award nominee Moritz von Stuelpnagel, opens tonight, November 23, 2015 at The Studio at Stage II - Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Series at New York City Center - Stage II (131 West 55th Street).

The cast for the limited engagement features Remy Auberjonois (Death of a Salesman), Jon Bass (The Book of Mormon), John Behlmann (Significant Other), Reed Campbell (The Comedy of Errors), Carson Elrod (The Explorers Club), Maria Elena Ramirez (Fish in the Dark), Matthew Saldivar (Honeymoon in Vegas), Triney Sandoval (A Free Man of Color), and Henry Vick (When The Rain Stops Falling).

IMPORTANT HATS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY spins the rip-roaring tale of Sam Greevy (Carson Elrod), the hottest fashion designer in 1930's New York... that is, until rival Paul Roms (Matthew Saldivar) starts releasing strange but popular pieces like "sweatshirts," "tracksuits" and "skater pants." When Greevy's minions break into Roms's shady operation, they make a startling discovery that could explain from where -- or should we say from when? -- these avant-garde ensembles are coming. Soon, this rivalry turns into a battle for the very future of humankind, and more importantly, fashion!

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: A parade of historic headgear does not feature in Mr. Jones's frothy but chiffon-thin play about rivalrous fashion designers, semi-mad scientists and time travel...Mr. Jones writes frisky, sometimes absurdist comic dialogue that comes at you from all angles...It has stray bits poking out here and there, and while undeniably inventive, it isn't exactly wearable, to continue the metaphor. By which I mean coherent...Mr. Jones's play rattles along waywardly, spinning into a confused quasi-farce...But while the play may lack substance, the production has style to spare...Best of all, the cast members fling themselves into the dizzy frolics with terrific verve. Mr. Elrod, an expert comedian, has said he modeled his performance on the veteran costume designer William Ivey Long...And he brings his customary wiry energy to the role...As the fashion pioneer, Mr. Saldivar has a fierce, broody presence; here is a man for whom designing clothes is both a righteous calling and a deadly serious business, worth killing for.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: The convoluted storyline eventually includes such elements as giant glowing orbs floating in the sky; holes ripped in the fabric of time and space; a serum that makes cats less selfish; zombified factory workers; an Abraham Lincoln bathroom joke; and masturbating Sasquatches...At the risk of posturing, let me say that this play, surely one of the looniest ever seen at the Manhattan Theatre Club, is often very, very funny. There's a profusion of laugh-out-loud one-liners; the expert ensemble, many playing multiple roles, is consistently hilarious; and the low-tech staging by Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Hand to God) is masterful in its breathlessly paced, controlled chaos. But as the plot synopsis suggests, the evening also is wildly overstuffed and self-indulgent, with the playwright throwing so many subplots and gags into the mix that weariness eventually settles in...It seems churlish to complain about a play trying too hard to be funny. But in the case of this hugely ambitious farce, less would actually have been more.

Helen Shaw, Time Out NY: Flexibility, velocity, the instant pivot: These are all hallmarks of the farceur, and the first parts of his wackadoodle sci-fi frolic Important Hats of the Twentieth Century whiz by. Unfortunately, the speed runs out before the show's quite over. As in other works of his (see The Coward) Jones is better at set-up than at working-through, and without a second idea to propel the central section, even a cast of committed zanies can't keep the frothiness afloat...When at their best, Jones and his longtime director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel seem like puppies in the leaf pile, bouncing around for sheer joy...Von Stuelpnagel keeps the pace as high as he can, and the actors run themselves breathless. But without a dramatic engine the show already seems long at intermission. Jones might take Greevy's attitude about tailoring to heart: The show is comfy fun, but might fit better with some judicious cuts.

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: Nick Jones tries something completely different in his often hilarious, always hallucinatory new comedy, "Important Hats of the Twentieth Century"...One of the dictums of camp is that heterosexuality is the biggest joke of all. Since the word "camp" is code for gay, Jones achieves the equivalent of pouring chocolate syrup over fudge in his "Hats" when he has a same-sex romance blossom between a hard-nosed reporter-critic, T.B. Doyle (John Behlmann being as outrageously stolid as he is handsome), and a high-fashion designer Sam Greevy (Carson Elrod impersonating Isaac Mizrahi right down to the mad-as-a-hatter hair). This mash-up of ideas is ingenious.

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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