The Hats of Mr. Zenobe

The Hats of Mr. Zenobe



About the book

  • Finalist — 4 Dora Awards
Based on the life of Vahan Poladian, a displaced Armenian who lost his family during the Turkish invasion, The Hats of Mr. Zenobe is a poignant indictment of war. In this one-man show, Astle brilliantly imagines and recreates Poladian’s twice-daily street performances.

About the author

Astle, Robert

Robert Astle is a writer, director and teacher. His solo plays Heart of a Dog and The Hats of Mr. Zenobe have been produced and performed in Canada, the USA and Europe; the Toronto production of The Hats of Mr. Zenobe  garnered him four Dora Award nominations. In the 1980s he was a member of Small Change Theatre, a company that toured clown and mask plays around the globe. He taught  clown and bouffon theatre at Concordia University as well as playwriting at the National Theatre School of Canada and was the Playwright in Residence at Montreal's Centaur Theatre. He presently lives in New York. 


Zenobe: On the sea, on the sea. Six hundred people in our life boat, all wearing life jackets. We turned our backs on those villages. Enough blood and tears. We clung to the rail of that life boat we called "Hope."

Zenobe leaps off the basket with newfound energy

Zenobe: I saw all the hats of the New World. Fez, yarmulke, fedora, panama hat, bowler hat...cowboy hat. All the hats of the world in that huge waiting room. (Aside.) Note how we wait in the 20th Century. Everything was tall in the New World. Even the Immigration Police.

Zenobe grabs the dressmaker's model with the General's costume and hat on it and raises it to an absurd height. Zenobe plays the voice of the Police, manipulating the dressmaker's model like a puppet.

Police: Papers.

Zenobe: No Possible Return... Armenia.

Police: Cough three times.

Zenobe: (Coughs.) I'm terribly fine... Awfully good.

Police: Born where?

Zenobe: Armenia.

Police: Shot in the arm?

Zenobe: No, no...I'm Armenian.

Police: Coming from where?

Zenobe: There.

Police: Going to?

Zenobe: Here.

Police: WHAT?

Zenobe: I'm Armenian. Now I'm Here.

Police: No Armenians. No Martians here. Not your kind!

Stung and humiliated, Zenobe backs away tipping his hat with a certain politesse oblige.

Zenobe: No, it is you who are kind. Very kind. Thank you, thank you. Thank you.

He now speaks directly to the public.

Zenobe: Thank you, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for letting me into your country...(Ironically.) For a very short time.

Zenobe tosses his suitcase on the basket, sits on the basket and continues the rocking motion as before.

Zenobe: The sea, the sea. We turned our backs on the very tall New World. We clung to the rail of the lifeboat we called "Not Your Kind."

Zenobe steps off the "boat" and tests the ground.

Zenobe: Vivre la France. Vivre les canards de France. Vivre les portes de France. Vivre les polices de France.

Zenobe sees the dressmaker's model. He lowers the dressmaker's model on its tripod.

Zenobe: The Police in France were not that tall.

Zenobe imitates the voice of the French police:

Police: Papiers.

Zenobe: (Struggling with his French.) Pas Possible de Retournez... Armenian.


Police: Bienvenu.

Zenobe: Bienvenu. Merci, monsieur, merci. Tres gentil. Tres, tres gentil.

Zenobe backs away from the Police, bowing graciously. He passes the door and notices the HOME painted on the door.

Zenobe: Home... Is where they let you hang your hat. Home... Is where they let you hang your empty picture frame. Home...Is where they let your heart be.

Bowing once more to the Police.

Zenobe: Merci. Merci. Mercy. Mercy.


The Hats of Mr. Zenobe is not so much about tragedy, as it is about the power of the human creative mind....something that empowers in a world that was, for Poladian, and even for us now, seems to drag us… >>

Vue Weekly

In this century of dispossession the ultimate refugee is the man who carries his own door with him. The pudgy patchwork figure who shambles onstage at the start of Robert Astle's new one-man show is trailing, and pushing, an overflowing… >>

The Edmonton Journal

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