The Mother F----r with the Hat -- Get Beyond the Title
By Bob and Karen Isaacs
How do you get beyond the unprintable title, The Mother F----r with the Hat,
of Stephen Adly Guirgis' wild comedy that received five Tony nominations? You go to see it at TheaterWorks Hartford through Dec.4.
What you'll see is a raucous comedy with raunchy language and action about people whom you wouldn't want to have as houseguests. And yet, despite their general disagreeable qualities they come across as genuine human beings struggling to survive.
On an empty stage into which props to change the scenes are constantly moved on and off, we meet Veronica and Jackie. She's a drug addict and he's just been released from prison and is struggling with a 12-step AA program. He's got good news; he's gotten a job. To celebrate they are about to have sex but she insists on taking a shower. While she's in the shower Jackie discovers a man's hat on the dresser and needs to find out not only to whom it belongs but also how it got there and why. Ergo: the title.
Their celebration goes south as Jackie decides that Veronica has been having sexual relations with another man - his investigation into this will elicit gales of laughter since it is mostly by literally sniffing around that he discovers that some hanky-panky, despite Veronica's denials, was going on. He also decides that the hat belongs to their landlord and decides to kill him.
The scene then changes to the apartment of Ralph and Victoria, a little more respectable than Jackie and Veronica's. Ralph is Jackie's sponsor at AA. Apparently the relationship between Ralph and his wife isn't going too well.
Jackie's arrival adds to the confusion and his lethal intentions are announced. It's not necessary to go into much more detail because you'll want to see it work out when you view the play. But there is one more character who needs to be introduced, Jackie's Cousin Julio who is a health food aficionado. It is in his apartment that Jackie hides the gun.
The one-act intermissionless play under the direction of Tazewell Thompson moves along well. And some of the exchanges are uproarious. Likewise the development of the characters makes clear who they are.
Each character has a justification for his or her actions and what you come to understand is that they are all just human beings caught up in the complexities of living. While you might not agree with their choices, you can empathize with the character.
The actors capture their characters perfectly. Ben Cole is a feckless and not too bright Jackie who has been in love with Veronica since the eighth grade; Veronica (Clea Alsip) is an attractive young woman whose drug addiction causes her to make bad choices but she apparently loves Jackie. Royce Johnson is Jackie's intellectual sponsor who also damages his own marriage by his extra-marital sexual activities. As Victoria, his wife, Vanessa Wasche creates a woman who knows what her husband is and who desires love. Finally, Cousin Julio is deliciously played by Varin Ayala, a short man whose training makes him a ninja out to protect his weaker cousin.
The quick-change settings by Donald Eastman work smoothly to provide different locales. Harry Nadal designed the costumes.
This is the kind of play where you might walk in with a particular mind set but viewing the production you will recommend it to friends and neighbors as a worthwhile theatrical experience.
The Mother F----r with the Hat is at TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl St. in Downtown Hartford, through Dec. 4. For tickets and information call 860-527-7838 or online at theaterworkshartford.org.
This review appears in Shore Publishing Community Newspapers Nov. 2, 2011 and online at Zip06.com.