The Motherfucker with the Hat

The Motherfucker with the Hat is not to be confused with The Cat in the Hat, but it is also not to be confused with The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, another Stephen Adly Guirgis play which received a memorable Washington-area production. Judas Iscariot is a deeply moving meditation on forgiveness, but Motherfucker is a swim in an acid bath of recrimination, where users, losers, addicts and their facilitators slowly drown under the weight of their own delusions.

It is also – and I know this is hard to believe about a play which has addiction as part of its motif – scabrously funny. From the moment that Veronica (Rosal Colón), after doing a line of coke, gives her drunk mother romantic advice (on dealing with mom’s fish-faced, abusive lover, “take a real good look and ask yourself in all honesty – ‘Do I wanna fuck him – or fry him up with a little adobo and paprika?’”) to the time when Veronica’s lover Jackie (Drew Cortese) stands before her like a man witnessing his own execution, unable to comprehend what he has lost, Motherfucker is a laugh-a-minute tragedy. On the night I attended the surprised barks of laughter which arose during the show sounded somehow guilty, as though done by an offender who was passing gas during Church services.

Rosal Colón and Drew Cortese (Photo: Teddy Wolff )

Rosal Colón and Drew Cortese (Photo: Teddy Wolff )

Laugh away; with a story this horrifying, laughter is a necessary cathartic. Jackie, newly sober, has returned from a 26-month stretch in the slammer. Veronica, after quickly stashing the blow and vodka, greets him ecstatically. They smooch for a while, and then he gives her the good news: he has a job! They plan their celebration: sex, followed by a visit to Carvel’s for an ice cream cake (they favor the kind shaped like a whale) and then, later still, the movies. As Veronica showers Jackie spins out the story of how he got this, his dream job – as a hotel porter, in an establishment with a very strong Union.

In this low-rent Eden, the snake takes the form of a jaunty fedora. It’s not Jackie’s, and it’s obviously not Veronica’s, and so when Jackie sees it, his suspicions are ignited. Add in a couple of unfamiliar smells, and Jackie is in full-blown j’accuse mode. Convinced the hat belongs to a downstairs neighbor who is having his way with Veronica, Jackie stalks out of their apartment to the comfort of his addictions sponsor, Ralph D. (Quentin Maré), and the orgy of anger, betrayal, bitterness and recrimination is on.

Ah, that Ralph D – he’s a piece of work.  You’ve heard the expression “butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth”? Well, ice wouldn’t melt in Ralph D’s mouth. He has mastered the patios of recovery, and learned how to use it to his own ends. Not everyone is charmed by Ralph – when he asks his wife Victoria (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey) to “blender up my sponsee a nice nutritional beverage” she instructs Ralph D to do the nasty upon himself – but Ralph charms Bobby, which he needs to do for reasons more complex than his mission.

If Judas Iscariot is about forgiveness and redemption, Motherfucker is about retention and damnation. Its world is a Darwinian world of hustle and lies followed by lethal anger. In this jangled universe, it’s easy to see how substance abuse would attract. And Jackie, with his self-righteous rage and sense of entitlement betrayed, is the perfect patsy in such an environment. We watch in fascination and horror as he is picked apart, as people a generation ago watched the great Mohammed Ali eviscerate his foes in the ring.

Drew Cortese and Quentin Maré (Photo: Teddy Wolff)

Drew Cortese and Quentin Maré (Photo: Teddy Wolff)

Studio Theatre’s cast, behind the proven hand of Director Serge Seiden, plays the hell out of this concept. In this I also include Liche Ariza, who in a brief but hilarious turn plays Cousin Julio, a wannabe tough guy whose talents and inclinations run more to the kitchen, and to giving massages and advising on hair loss. Motherfucker is a little like early Mamet, and particularly American Buffalo. The characters are at the bottom of the food chain, desperately aspirational for things we take for granted – a steady job, freedom from incarceration, an ice cream cake, a stable relationship. They speak in a sort of profane poetry – or more than that: their language is dance music. This is Jackie and Victoria after having broken their pledge of sobriety together: “JACKIE: No no no no no no! I’m sorry. VICTORIA: No no no no no no! It’s okay.”

Drew Cortese and Liche Ariza (Photo: Teddy Wolff)

Drew Cortese and Liche Ariza (Photo: Teddy Wolff)

It takes more than superb actors to pull off lines like this. It takes word dancers, who have incorporated the rumba rhythm of Guirgis’ language.  It is a great feat to bring out the poetry of, say, Shakespeare’s language, but it is at least equally impressive to find the poetry in these humble words, and make it sing. These actors – particularly Cortese as Jackie and Colón as Veronica – do the job.

When Jackie and Veronica are on stage together you can buy that they have been with each other since high school. They love each other; they hate each other; they hold life and death power over each other; and it’s evident every moment we see them. Their complex energy radiates from them like heat from a blast furnace, and you will feel it no matter where you sit in Studio’s intimate Metheny Theatre.

Apart from Veronica, Cortese’s Jackie catapults through the play as though he is being waterboarded, desperately trying to draw his breath as calamity after calamity unfolds in front of him.

A note about Maré as Ralph D: this is the role that Chris Rock played in the Broadway production. I saw that production, and Rock was adequate, but Maré is much better. Like Rock, he makes Ralph D a slickster with his eye always on the main prize, but he goes further than Rock did – he makes Ralph D the slickster of recovery. He radiates tough love, and yet it does not shock that one of the two words of that cliché is out of place.

Highly Recommended
The Motherfucker with the Hat
Closes March 10, 2013
The Studio Theatre
1501 14th St. NW
Washington, DC
1 hour, 50 minutes without intermission
Tickets: $39 – $82
Tuesdays thru Sundays
Details
Tickets
As good as this production is, it’s not perfect. The actors need to work a little bit on Robb Hunter’s fight choreography (and Hunter may wish to reconsider making them hit the flimsy back wall) and I had some difficulty understanding Debra Booth’s set design, which featured a back wall which didn’t go all the way up and exposed cables and suchlike connected to the mobile set pieces. Booth is a highly qualified and experienced set designer and I’m certain that these elements were part of a deliberate choice, but I didn’t get it.

But these are small matters. The Motherfucker with the Hat is at bottom an experience in basic biology. It will make you laugh so hard your heinie will fall off. Then it will break your heart.

—————–

The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis, directed by Serge Seiden, featuring Rosa Colón, Drew Cortese, Quentin Maré, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, and Liche Ariza. Set design by Debra Booth, lighting design by Michael Giannitti, costume design by Ivania Stack, sound design and original music by Eric Shimelonis. Robb Hunter is the fight director; Jesse Aasheim is the production manager, Michael Donohue is the technical director and John Keith Hall is the production stage manager. Produced by Studio Theatre . Reviewed by Tim Treanor

 

hat2 
Other reviews

Alexis Victoria Hauk . DCist
Jennifer Perry . BroadwayWorld
Gary Tischler . Georgetowner
Jolene Munch Cardoza . Washington Examiner
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Patrick Folliard . Washington Blade
Doug Rule . MetroWeekly
Sydney-Chanele Dawkins . DCMetroTheaterArts
Chris Klimek . City Paper
Sophie Gilbert . Washingtonian
Susan Berlin . Talkin’Broadway
Celia Wren . Washington Post
Robert Michael Oliver . MDTheatreGuide

 

 


Comments

  1. Steven McKnight says:

    I just want to join Tim in emphasizing what an outstanding production Studio has developed. I also saw the play on Broadway, and while it had a few excellent performances, Sutdio’s version is a revelation. It is so much better that it is almost like seeing a different play. While the Broadway production emphasized the outrageous characters and the laughs, Director Seiden’s approach is much more grounded in realism. As a result, it gives the audience members a powerful emotional connection to the characters and the story. Drew Cortese gives one of the best leading performances of the season and both Quentin Maré and Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey are major upgrades over their Broadway counterparts. “Mother with the Hat” may be one of Serge Seiden’s finest directing jobs which, given his outstanding body of work, is really saying something.

Comments

*

Anti-Spam Quiz:

Reprint Policy Our articles may not be reprinted in full but only as excerpts and those portions may only be used if a credit and link is provided to our website.
DC Theatre Scene is supported in part by the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities and by the Humanities Council of Washington, DC.