The Hatmaker’s Daughters: What Community Theater Should Be
By Christine O’Neill
On William Shakespeare’s 446th birthday the Pawling Theater Company put on their penultimate production of The Hatmaker’s Daughters. The Bard couldn’t have asked for a better birthday gift! This delightful production, written by Pawling local Aaron Emke, kept me smiling and laughing the whole night long.
The play ran April 16th, 17th, 23rd, and 24th at 7:30 at the Pawling High School auditorium.
The show began with the Narrator (Josephy ‘Rocky’ Colavito) explaining to the audience – and, in a few cases, the actors – that this was a fairy tale. Once upon a time, there lived a man named August McBaum (Scott Nenni), and he was the greatest haberdasher in all of the Kingdom of Fredonia. He had a lovely wife named April (Victoria Finnigen) and ten daughters. But when McBaum died in “a tragic feather accident,” his business went to the dogs. May (Learan Jass) and June (Anna Krzyzewski) McBaum, the two eldest daughters, often wished for a better life for their family.
One day, May strikes up a deal with the evil witch Virago (Amy Emke), agreeing that if Virago could convince Queen Babs (Sherrie House) to buy all the hats in the shop, June would be Virago’s apprentice. May, who is ‘like, totally naive and stuff’ doesn’t realize that apprentice may be a bit of a euphemism. It just so happens, on that very day, that June meets and falls in love with Prince Vince (Becky Meyers). The young lovers plan to rendezvous at the palace gates, but Virago claims her slave before they can meet.
Infused with plenty of conflict, comedy, and dialogue that reached audience members of all ages, this play was really a homerun. It’s exactly what community theater should be.
The young heroine June McBaum, Anna Krzyzewski, did a very, very good job. Her singing voice was really something and her acting was solid. Even though she was supposed to be older than May, I think it was a good decision to cast her as June.
May was absolutely charming. She was probably my favorite character. The actress who portrayed her, Learan Jass, combined just the right amount of teenage apathy and fairy tale innocence. Her character is a perfect example of why this show was really great for the whole family, teenagers included.
Becky Meyer’s portrayal of Prince Vince really impressed me. Most teenage girls might be a little shy about playing a male, but not Becky. She delivered her lines with confidence, and with a lot of expression.
Queen Babs was hilarious. Sherrie House was able to make the character funny and entertaining without stealing the attention from the kids. I really liked her performance.
The secondary characters were great as well. The hardworking April McBaum, the self-sacrificing Princess Valetta (Emma Heubel), and the very patient Narrator did good work. Emma Heubel was especially memorable. She spoke like a seasoned actress, cheating to the audience and keeping her voice clear and animated.
One of my favorite parts of this play was the all the little kids. They were adorable, and I was shocked at how most everything went off without a hitch. All of the McBaum children delivered their lines exactly on cue, loudly and clearly. The audience was “awwwww”ing every time one of them spoke. And the trolls! Think Pebbles and BamBam meets Pipi Longstocking. To have a play with that many young children must be extremely difficult to coordinate, but you’d never know by watching it. They were so professional.
I couldn’t possibly have enough good things to say about the Emke family. Aaron Emke wrote this play five years ago for his wife’s theater group. The premise, the plot, and the dialogue were of the caliber of any royalty-earning manuscript. The jokes were all crisp and original, and I really feel like it was written to accommodate a cast from all walks of life. Pawling is very, very lucky to have Mr. Emke. I’m sure he was extremely proud to see The Hatmaker’s Daughters in the hands of the Pawling Theater Company. Amy Emke portrayed the antagonist, the witch Virago. Her speaking voice is wonderful. She’s incredibly expressive and has such a presence on the stage. Some of the best scenes of the play were when she and May squabbled over their ‘contract’. They were great foils, and Amy’s performance was truly magnificent. Even their son, Noah Emke, participated. His few lines as the Chief Minister were delivered swimmingly.
The sets and costumes were wonderful. From Queen Babs’ incredibly green gown to the pied patchwork on the McBaums’ frocks, the stage was constantly colorful. The sets were fairly simplistic, but I actually thought that was a great decision. It put more focus on the actors.
There were some things about the play that I wasn’t too crazy about. As much as I loved the storyline, I felt that there was a little too much narration at the beginning. While every good fairy tale needs its setup, I would have preferred a bit less ‘tell’ and a bit more ‘show’. However, the cute exchanges that took place between the Narrator and May, wherein he delicately cautions her against breaking the fourth wall, definitely made up for it.
Another thing I didn’t care for very much was the music. June had a spectacular voice – I still can’t believe Anna Krzyzewski is only in 6th grade – as did Virago. However, I think this play would’ve been just as good if it wasn’t a musical. Now, the songs certainly didn’t take away anything from the play, but they were not as dazzling as the other aspects in my opinion.
The director was Martin Posner, a longtime member of Pawling Theater Company, although this was his first time directing. Kirsten Edlund was the assistant director, Pam DeHuff the musical director, and Christine Bexley the producer. It was very evident that these four worked together to create a common vision of what the play should be. I think they did an outstanding job. Also, this could not have been possible without the hard work of the backstage heroes: Greg Chadwick (Set Designer), Jane Posner (Stage Manager), Lynn Jass (House Manager) and Al Fitch (Lighting).
The Pawling Theater Company’s production of The Hatmaker’s Daughters was fantastic. I’m so glad I went to see it, and I’m excited to see where these very talented actors perform next. And as for Shakespeare? I’m sure he was very, very proud of this tribute to theater.
To learn more about the magic behind the scenes of The Hatmaker’s Daughters, check out Susan Stone’s interview with Aaron Emke here: http://www.pawlingpublicradio.org/film-archive/interview-with-aaron-emke/