If you ask me…
- Tom Holehan
Controversial “Mother” Debuts at TheaterWorks
The play that dare not speak its name, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ profane and often hilarious “The Motherf****r With the Hat”, is currently enjoying its American Regional Theatre Premiere at Hartford TheaterWorks. The plucky and daring theatre company is the idea venue for this contemporary drama.
Guirgis’ nervy drama opens in a dilapidated flophouse where stoner Veronica is preparing for the arrival of her boyfriend, clean and sober Jackie, who has just been released from prison. The reunion is a joyful one with Jackie excited about his new job prospects and Veronica anxious to rekindle some romance. Then Jackie notices a man’s hat has been left in the room and it’s not his. The fireworks begin. Advice from Jackie’s savvy sponsor, Ralph, and eventually his colorful cousin Julio follows. The oddball, thoroughly original characters in the play also include Ralph’s very angry wife, Victoria.
With drug taking, full-frontal nudity and a barrage of dirty words that would make David Mamet blush, “The Motherf****r With the Hat” would seem an unlikely play to harbor a heart with so much humanity at its core. Although, initially, you might like to write off these tough-talking losers as social misfits, Guirgis digs deep into character so we slowly come to understand each and every one of them: their pain, their contradictions, their longings for a better life. The many facets of recovery and its repercussions are dealt with honestly and with great humor.
The strong company is well-directed by Tazewell Thompson though some actors seem to struggle with New York and Puerto Rican accents. As the central couple, Clea Alsip and Ben Cole have a volatile chemistry that comes across naturally. Royce Johnson is all glib assurance as Ralph and Vanessa Wasche packs a wallop as his miserable wife. In the plum, scene-stealing role of Julio, Varin Ayala does not disappoint and his hilarious one-liner about Applebee’s is priceless.
A more neutral backdrop in Donald Eastman’s graffiti-inspired setting would help differentiate the various locations required for the play. It works fine for Jackie and Veronica’s sad hovel but is a distraction for Ralph’s more upscale apartment. Philip S. Rosenberg’s creative lighting manages to help, however, and Harry Nadal’s costuming is right on target. So is this up-to-the-minute contemporary winner by Mr. Guirgis.
“The Motherf****r With the Hat” continues at TheaterWorks through Sunday, December 4th. For further information and ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 860.527.7838 or visit: www.theaterworkshartford.org.
Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.