Two couples, a cousin and a hat. Sounds pretty bland, doesn’t it? But in the hands of pushing-the-envelope-playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, expert director Anna D. Shapiro and an almost excellent cast of actors “The Motherf**ker With the Hat” now echoing throughout the Schoenfeld Theatre on West 45th Street with multiple uses of the F word, you will find yourself witnessing a very funny, sometimes volcanic, sometimes poignant and altogether surprisingly good play.
Not that it’s without flaws. Let’s try to be logical in the illogical world of alcoholics and drug addicts. Would the cocaine sniffing girl friend (Veronica, a sensational Elizabeth Rodriguez) of a semi-reformed convict enrolled in AA (Jackie – the brilliant Bobby Cannavale) while cleaning up their apartment and speaking to her mom on the telephone leave a hat – not belonging to her boyfriend – clearly visible on a table? Is she so out of it that she forgets or has she left it there on purpose to bring to a head the problems that they have been having for twenty years?
The hat being that which sets off the ballistic reaction of Jackie when he returns home early with news that he’s gotten a job – the hat which he then uses to accuse her of sleeping with another guy and then smelling the sheets for evidence. Aqua Velva!
When you discover who the guy is you will also wonder why that scent never was noticed before. Anyway the characters are well defined and brought to vivid life from the cast which includes stand-up comic Chris Rock as Ralph D. – an ex addict himself who is the sponsor for Jackie and in a rather uncomfortable marriage with Victoria (Annabella Sciorra). His philosophy of life – his double standard – leaves much to be desired and leaves Jackie disillusioned as to why he should remain sober and clean.
High octane performances are given by Cannavale with his throat veins looking as if they are about to burst and his lover Rodriguez who can give it back as hard as it comes. They are an incendiary couple in love and in lust and ready to kill each other.
Unfortunately Mr. Rock – who seems to be trying very hard – doesn’t come up to the same level as the others. You can sense the air being deflated from his scenes. It’s hard for the others to recoup. But recoup they do.
Seeking advice from Cousin Julio (Yul Vazquez who gives an understated and altogether amusing portrait of a pansy turned tough guy) Jackie is accused of only coming to him when he needs help. He’s a user. Not only of drugs but of people. These characters feel and they feel deeply.
The three apartment set by Todd Rosenthal is quite original and detailed, despite a brief malfunction that stopped the show. You have got to hand it to Cannavale whose next line got the audience right back on track with a huge laugh. Incidental music by Terence Blanchard adds to the cityscape atmosphere and director Anna D. Shapiro sets just the right tone and has paced the show so as to elicit as much sympathy as she can get from these difficult to like characters. It’s a great accomplishment.
Word of mouth alone should make this limited run engagement a must see. Through June 25th. And remember, don’t judge a play by its title.
www.themfwiththehat.com Photo: Joan Marcus
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