NEW YORK (AP) — A madcap power struggle between a pair of rival designers in New York's 1930s fashion industry is the crux of the latest fevered production from Nick Jones.
Jones, whose play "Trevor," about a depressed chimpanzee, garnered a lot of attention in 2013. His newest work, "Important Hats of the Twentieth Century," is a playful, tongue-in-cheek comedy that opened Monday night at Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center Stage II.
Carson Elrod is perfectly cast as petulant, flamboyant designer Sam Greevy, aka "the King of Dresses." Matthew Saldivar gives a blue-collar sturdiness to the role of Sam's arch-rival, Paul Roms, who starts producing popular but shapeless clothing called "sweatshirts" and "skater pants." Remy Auberjonois exudes doom as a downcast scientist with the Hugely Experimental Science Center who has lost track of his greatest invention, something mysterious and top-secret which may have to do with time travel.
Under Moritz von Stuelpnagel's effectively whirlwind direction, the ensemble nimbly enacts multiple characters in support of the chiffon-thin plot. John Behlman is dashing as earnest reporter T.B. Doyle, and Jon Bass is notably funny as a truculent teenager who just can't believe how his clothes keep getting stolen from under his nose. Reed Campbell, Maria Elena Ramirez, Triney Sandoval and Henry Vick enact numerous parts as the action cascades into a veritable sweatshop hell.
Jones, a writer on "Orange Is the New Black," provides many genuine laughs in the first half as he gleefully mocks fashion, science, law enforcement and journalism. On the subject of fashion reviewing, one character says, "I think it must be hard being a critic. Always thinking you're right about everything," to which the writer responds: "Well, it's the posturing that's key."
Unfortunately, the second act sinks into predictability, with deliberately cheesy time-travel effects and the presence of vulgar, annoying yeti-type creatures. However, substance is not the point of "Important Hats." Just enjoy the sense of frivolity, the goofy sci-fi riffs, and the exceptional comedic talents of the cast.