Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
May 30, 2014
The title may be unprintable, but the play is irresistible. “The Motherf ** ker with the Hat” is provocative, hilarious, graphic and real. It’s about honesty and loyalty, addiction and betrayal, passion and violence. Growing up and becoming a man.
There are so many luscious layers to Stephen Adly Guirgis’ 2011 comic drama. You could just be offended by the barrage of F-bombs. Or you could revel in the gritty musicality of the Hell’s Kitchen language. Or, you could get into the struggles of these five hurt and hurtful, damaged souls. Under the cleverly controlled and often whimsical staging of guest director Rob Lutfy , the Cygnet Theatre production is outstanding and the ensemble is superb.
At the center is Jackie, an alcoholic ex-con who’s addicted to his promiscuous junkie girlfriend, Veronica, and in thrall to his AA mentor, Ralph D. After he finds a man’s hat in Veronica’s apartment, Jackie loses control. In despair, he turns to his much-maligned cousin, Julio, and to Ralph’s wife.
Jackie has moments of weakness, temptation, temper and violence. But deep down, he harbors a sense of decency. In their vicious-cycle search for friendship, acceptance and love, the slippery essence of morality is confronted by each of these flawed, foul-mouthed characters. Guirgis knows his blue collar Newyoricans . And he knows how to lace a dark story with leavening laughter, while leaving room for a sliver of hope.
As Jackie, Steven Lone proves once again what a skilled, natural and charismatic actor he is. Laurence Brown starts out smooth and ends up slimy, as Ralph D. Esteban Andres Cruz makes Julio funny, lost and poignant. Sandra Ruiz and Whitney Brianna Thomas make for some tough, affection-craving survivors.
Andrew Hull’s set is a quick-change marvel, abetted by the comic between-scene business. There’s a strong sense of ensemble and cohesion throughout, and a potent understanding of place and character.
Excellent work all around. You’d be f**king nuts to miss it.
“The Motherf ** ker with the Hat” runs through June 22 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town.
©2014 PAT LAUNER