Encore Michigan

Williamston turns ‘Hat Box’ into a classic

Review August 12, 2022 Julie Linderleaf

WILLIAMSTON, MI–What’s in the box? 

I’m not going to tell you! Everyone has to come to Williamston Theatre to find out and you only have a few more chances to find out what’s in The Hat Box at Williamston Theatre. 

The world premiere play expertly written by Eric Coble simply begins with two middle-aged sisters cleaning out their father’s house after his recent passing. I packed tissues. I expected a sad drama that would pull at my emotional heart-strings. I was prepared for an emotional wringer. Nope. Not in the least.  The show is a jaw dropping, thought provoking, barrel of surprises, secrets, and laughter.  

Sisters Winnie played by Sandra Birch and Claire played by Suzie Regan begin the show doing “The most stressful activity two people can do:” cleaning out a parent’s house after the last one dies.  The women start the show in two different rooms, sorting what to keep, donate, or throw away; Claire opens the show sorting through books on the stage set up as the living room, while Winnie keeps getting distracted in the off-stage bedroom cleaning task and brings items, like a family heirloom gravy boat, onto the stage. The show uses the first scene and builds tensions between the sisters with hints about lifestyle choices that keep them apart.  Winnie comes running in with a hexagon shaped hat box, the show’s mood immediately flips a switch from drama to mystery.  

The box’s contents shock the sisters: Claire wants to throw it away in the local Chinese Restaurant’s dumpster and forget about it, while Winnie wants to solve the mystery. Winnie wins. 

This leads the sisters to one of the best actresses in the show: Karen Sheridan as Aunt Ester, their dad’s sister.  She plays dementia-ridden Aunt Ester, who manipulates the sisters to take her to her brother’s estranged best friend Stanley’s house. She tricks the sisters telling them that he would have the answers to the box.  But the mystery just widens even more.  Now there are allusions to secrets, relationships and more mysteries surrounding their dad’s past and Stanley’s past. Rico Bruce Wade plays Stanley and he adds a pizazz to the shadiness of the character. 

The set is designed by Aaron Delnay to emphasize the hatbox and the spreading of the secrets. Hexagons are strategically placed all over the set, walks and floor to surround the auditorium in the secret of the hat box. 

All of a sudden, you just look at your watch and 85 minutes have passed and the secrets and mysteries are still left with only allusions to the answers. The show ends and It’s one show where time did pears watching this talented cast. 

Try and get to The Williamston to see what’s in the box.

Week of 9/19/2022

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