After the Show

By Dramaturg, Isabella Dawis

“To me, this play is about the idiosyncrasies of relationships, particularly long-standing ones. My grandparents were married for over sixty years, and I remember feeling that for them, love had morphed somewhere along the way. It wasn't all about romantic gesture. Making the bed together or correctly parking the car was just as important.” 

About the Playwright 

The Hatmaker’s Wife premiered in 2013 and was written by Lauren Yee, an American playwright based in New York City.

Lauren has a long history with the Twin Cities, beginning in 2009 with Theater Mu’s production of her very first full-length play, Ching Chong Chinaman. She has since gone on to become one of the most produced playwrights in the US, and her plays are regularly presented across the country.

You may have seen Lauren’s work on local stages before. Recent Twin Cities productions of her plays include Cambodian Rock Band at Theater Mu & the Jungle Theater (2022) and The Great Leap at the Guthrie Theater (2019).

The Hatmaker’s Wife, one of Lauren’s earlier plays, shows how she can surprisingly and unexpectedly center a story around the dynamics of a family. Many of Lauren’s other plays also explore parent/child relationships – sometimes against the backdrop of a specific culture from around the world, or of a momentous time in history.

What inspired The Hatmaker’s Wife? Lauren lists many influences including her grandparents’ marriage; her experience at a writer’s retreat in Egypt, staying at a German golf resort; and the title of neurologist Oliver Sacks’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. (In her words, “I like plays with a lot of stuff in them.”)

Lauren Yee

What is a Golem? (“GOH-lum”)

In the play, Hetchman is visited by a golem, described as “a creature of muck and mud.” He takes charge of the creature, believing that he understands its purpose and intentions. But the golem has designs of its own…

When you hear the word “golem,” what comes to mind? Do you imagine monsters from games like Minecraft and Dungeons and Dragons? Maybe you think of the legend of the Golem of Prague, a defender and guardian. What about superhuman (anti-)heroes like Captain America and the Terminator?

The golem is a character from Jewish folklore that dates back thousands of years. The term is used in the Bible and in Talmudic literature to refer to “an incomplete substance.” It later came to mean “an image endowed with life.”

In the Middle Ages, many legends arose of wise men who could animate the figure of a person by using a charm or sacred word. In early stories the golem was usually a perfect servant, but it sometimes followed orders too literally. Later on, golems took on a more frightening appearance. The most famous legend is the Golem of Prague, created by the 16th-century rabbi Judah Löw ben Bezulel as a protector in time of persecution.

Today, golems are found in stories and art forms all over the world – human-like beings that have been given the power to defend and destroy. They can be made of stone, clay, flesh, or even AI.

What happens when we have the power to give life? Will we be able to control it? Will it help us in our time of need? Or will the monster turn on us?

What lessons do our golems teach us?

(adapted from Britannica)

Golems in Popular Culture

Literature

  • Does the word “golem” make you think of Gollum, the character from The Lord of the Rings (1955) and The Hobbit (1937?) Some hypothesize that author J.R.R. Tolkien was indeed inspired by golem tales.
  • The monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) is often cited as a classic example of a golem-like character in science fiction.
  • The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (2001) features the Golem of Prague and draws parallels between comic book superheroes and golems.

“I see those [golem] stories of creating a defender as a possible antecedent for the idea of the superhero.”

On Screen, Tabletop and Video Games

To Delve Deeper

Articles

How Important Is Physical Contact with Your Infant? (Scientific American)

“Touch and emotional engagement boost early childhood development, but can children recover from neglectful environments?”

 Festivals of the Dead Around the World (Smithsonian Magazine)

“In the United States, Halloween is mostly about candy, but elsewhere in the world celebrations honoring the departed have a spiritual meaning.”

Videos

 Adoption, DNA, and the Impact on a Concealed Life (Ruth Monnig, TEDxDuke)

“Commercial DNA testing has ended genetic anonymity. Adoption is still predicated and governed by secrecy. Using her own experience, the speaker illustrates the socially unrealized adoptee experience and challenges continued secrecy in the construct.”

The Importance of a Narrative (Donald R. Guillory, TEDx UniversityofMississippi)

From the perspective of a black man who wants to learn more about his family’s past and to share his own past with his daughter, this video discusses the importance of passing personal histories down through generations. “Our narratives reveal who we are and allow others to better understand our histories, experiences, and humanity.”

Discussion Questions

1. What happens next? The young couple gets into a big argument, but the play ends before we find out how their fight is resolved. Based on what you heard and saw, what do you think happens next in their relationship, and why?

2. No hatmusic for the woman” Hetchman’s Wife asks Hetchman to make her a hat of her own, but he laughs at her (“So silly! Hat?! For lady?!”)
– Why does Hetchman think it’s silly for a woman to have her own hat? What does that mean to you, or remind you of?
– The second-best hatmaker tells Hetchman’s Wife: “Is no hatmusic for the woman. Is just not possible.” Why can’t she hear Hetchman’s hatmusic, and why doesn’t his hat fit her?
– We never learn the name of the young woman at the center of the story. Why is that? How does that connect her to Hetchman and Hetchman’s Wife?

3. “If walls could talk…” This play invites us to imagine this saying as a reality!
– Have you ever found yourself in a place with an unexpected or surprising past? How/why?
– Hetchman’s story is told with the use of many objects, or props. Have you ever learned more about parents or elder figures in your life through their objects or possessions?
– The young woman in the play is about to move into her first home, but she is very nervous about this step, saying “sometimes this doesn’t feel like my life.” Have you ever taken a big leap that seemed right on the outside but felt wrong on the inside? Or, like the character Gabe, have you ever seen someone struggle with that feeling?

4. Production design While the playwright dictates what the actors say, much of what the audience sees and hears is decided by the production team – the stage director, composer, costume designer, prop designer, scenic designer, etc.
– The play takes place mostly in one room, but jumps between different points in time. Name a specific instance when the story jumped forwards or backwards in time. How did you know? Examples could include sound/music, what the actors were wearing, where they were in space, how they were moving, etc.

Make Your Own Hatmusic

“Hatmusic is indescribable and unique to each person. When you are happy and you are wearing the right hat, you hear hatmusic.” What does your hatmusic sound like? Is it a favorite song? The sound of a certain musical instrument? A catchy rhythmic beat? Share your hatmusic with someone else!