Thursday, December 27, 2012

What’s in a Name?

by Kimberly Colburn

“The Hat Play.”
“The play with the unprintable name.”
“The one with the curse word in the title.”
“One funny mother of a play.”
“The cursing play.”
“The MotherMMMHHHMMM with the Hat.”
“The [Unpleasant Person] with the Hat.”

This is a report of a few of the monikers audience members have given to the box office in order to purchase tickets or ways the play has been referred to in the printed press. Shorthand names of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ newest play, The Motherf**ker with the Hat, are plentiful. It’s almost as though Guirgis is daring you to say it aloud. The title brilliantly captures the explosive dark humor in this play and whether you find the title titillating or a turn-off, the comedy and power of this piece cannot be denied. The Wall Street Journal called it a “tight, smart and splendidly well-made…a tough-minded, unromantically romantic comedy that keeps you laughing, then sends you home thinking.”

Set in New York City, the play opens on Veronica, “cleaning” up her single room in a residential hotel off of Time Square (including getting rid of a line of leftover coke) and giving dating advice to her mother. Veronica insists her mother’s current beau resembles a fish. “Take a real good look and ax yourself in all honesty—‘Do I wanna fuck him—or fry him up with a little adobo and paprika an’ feed him to fuckin’ Buster and Negrito, okay?!’” Veronica knows something about dating; she’s been dating Jackie on and off since the eighth grade.

Elisa Bocanegra as Victoria and Tony Sancho as Jackie.
Jackie is fresh from a two year stint in prison for selling drugs. He’s clean now, thanks to AA and the help of his sponsor, Ralph D.  He returns home to Veronica’s place with great news. He’s found a job. More than that, it’s a job with potential for advancement. For the first time in his life, they can plan for the future together. Jackie promises Veronica a night of celebration, but Veronica puts the plan on pause to go and take a quick shower. Jackie’s celebratory mood sours when he notices a seemingly innocuous object on the table. It’s a hat. It’s a man’s hat, but it sure ain’t Jackie’s hat. Who is the owner of that hat? And what was he doing with Veronica?

Jackie accuses Veronica of stepping out on him. She denies it, but he doesn’t believe her. How could he? Jackie asks her “Why the bed smells like Aqua Velva and dick?” Like Ralph D. says, you can’t trust an addict—and everyone is struggling with his or her demons in this play. From Jackie to his lonely cousin Julio, no one can quite manage to tell the cold, hard truth. It’s just not that simple when you live in desperate circumstances and the people around you solve problems with drugs or violence.

Jackie’s never been able to keep it together long enough to become what society might see as a functioning member, and now he’s so close he can taste it—but life keeps hitting him with one distracting revelation after another. Guirgis’ play explores the nature of addiction. Jackie is forced to wrestle with avenging his cuckold status while navigating the temptations that are luring him to indulge in his past bad behaviors, the only ways he has ever known.

Director Michael John Garcés, in his work as the artistic director of Cornerstone Theater Company, has personal connections to the themes in this play. He has worked with community members who have struggled with addiction. When asked what excites him about the play, Garces cites Guirgis’ ability “to use rough language to make deeply insightful statements about love and the human condition” and “tackle important issues—in this case alcoholism and the effects of addiction—in a way that makes for great, engrossing and entertaining storytelling.”  (Read an interview with Garcés.)

Artistic Director Marc Masterson calls this play “sharply funny and achingly honest” and is “thrilled to introduce this important American playwright to SCR audiences.” Guirgis has penned hit plays such as Our Lady of 121st Street, Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train and The Last Days of Judas Iscariot. He has also enjoyed success in television, working on shows such as "NYPD: Blue" and "The Sopranos."

The comedy in this play lies in Gurigis’ masterful manipulation of the extremity of the characters’ circumstances mixed with a dose of good old-fashioned romantic farce. Whose hat is it? Can Jackie manage to find the owner of the hat and bring him to justice, all while staying clean and out of jail? A play by any other name could surely not be this provocative—or this funny.

No comments:

Post a Comment