Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

The Motherf**cker with the Hat

Jaime Carrillo, Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Alejandro Simoes
Considering the deep-seated rivalries that exist between Boston and New York City, is it possible that a play rooted in the Big Apple, obviously written in a New York state of mind, can resonate in the Hub? Stephen Adly Guirgis grew up in NYC and lives and labors there still, and although the characters he fashions in The Motherf**cker with the Hat are New Yorkers to the core, they share attributes of addicts, lovers, and friends that are universally recognizable in any gritty urban setting. Most theatergoers rarely encounter people like this in their lives—or on the stage—but know authenticity when it hits them upside the head.

SpeakEasy Stage Company welcomes back Director David R. Gammons, who previously helmed the emotionally powerful plays Blackbird and Red, and a team of designers, all but one of whom have transformed this theatre in countless prior productions. Gammons doesn't miss a beat in attacking Guirgis' raw, edgy dialogue, while making sure to mine the inherent stinging humor that counterbalances the story. His diverse cast, made up of two veterans and three newcomers to SpeakEasy, is spot on in their portrayals and it is hard to imagine anyone better in these roles.

The Motherf**cker with the Hat, nominated for six 2011 Tony Awards including Best Play, puts five characters under the microscope to view their struggles up close and very intimately. Jackie (Jaime Carrillo) is a small-time drug dealer recently released from prison, trying to stay clean, get a job and reheat his relationship with his childhood girlfriend Veronica (Evelyn Howe). Complicating matters, Veronica is an active cocaine addict who may have been fooling around on him. Although he has fifteen years of sobriety, Jackie's sponsor Ralph D. (Maurice Emmanuel Parent) has issues that impact their relationship, as well as his marriage to Victoria (award-winning playwright Melinda Lopez), who is also in recovery. Jackie's Cousin Julio (Alejandro Simoes), more or less a straight shooter, gets sucked into the tangled web of deceit being spun by these damaged characters.

Guirgis makes it quite evident that they are all responsible for their own situations, although they don't necessarily connect the dots or acknowledge it. For example, it is widely known, even among people who are not in 12-step programs, that it is ill-advised to try to be in a relationship while one is in early recovery, not to mention how dangerous it is to be with someone who is actively using. Yet, Jackie disregards the admonition from both his parole officer and his sponsor because he is so in love with Veronica. Once he starts on that path, it becomes the proverbial slippery slope to other less than law-abiding behavior and it is a prime example of standing in a hole and pulling dirt in on your head.

Carrillo nails the inevitability of it all. It doesn't take long for Jackie's happy-go-lucky demeanor to be sidetracked by the sight of a strange fedora on a chair in his and Veronica's apartment. Like a bloodhound, he tries to sniff out the truth and goes into a rage. Howe is a spitfire and gives as good as she gets in their shout fest, reacting like she has been unjustly accused, but with an underlying hint of duplicity. Parent's Ralph D. is the smooth, calm voice of reason who appears to have it altogether, but he shows a couple of other sides to his face as the story unfolds. (Actually, Parent and Howe briefly show a lot more than their faces in this adult comedy, but the nudity is not gratuitous.) Lopez is sympathetic as Ralph's long-suffering wife who feels trapped in a world that he rules. Simoes strikes the right balance between sweetness and macho guy playing the one character who is guided by a moral compass. Jackie spews about a code between guys, but Julio is the one who takes a stand out of loyalty.

Eric Levenson's set features sheets of plywood painted with swaths of yellow graffiti, towers of industrial spotlights, and limited furniture which gets moved around by the actors to represent different apartments. At the beginning of each scene, a slide on an overhead projector indicates where it is set, as well as stage directions, and Sound Designer David Remedios programs appropriate theme music (such as Latin-tinged at Julio's apartment) to play during the pauses. Jeff Adelberg designs the lighting which varies from shockingly bright, to romantic and moody, and uses spots to draw attention to objects, such as the chapeau of the title. Costumes by Gail Astrid Buckley tell us about the characters before they utter a word; Jackie with his hoodie and baseball cap worn backwards, Veronica with her skimpy shorts and crocheted top, and the whimsical aprons and tight tank tops worn by Julio may offer stereotypical information, but most of it proves to be accurate.

The Motherf**cker with the Hat wades—no, make that dives—into rough waters, watching its characters struggle to stay afloat in the face of addiction, self-sabotage, betrayal and infidelity, with nary a life preserver in sight. The key, as Ralph tells Jackie, is "in order to change, you got to change," but it takes awhile for him to figure out what that entails. Things look rather bleak until he starts to understand that staying clean is only one step on a long journey that also requires growing up and accepting responsibility. Guirgis flashes a glimmer of hope in the end and that might be enough for now.

The Motherf**cker with the Hat, performances through October 13 at SpeakEasy Stage Company, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston, MA; For ticket and performance information, please visit Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, Directed by David Gammons, Scenic Design by Eric Levenson, Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley, Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg, Sound Design by David Remedios; Production Stage Manager, Dawn Schall Saglio; Fight Director, Ted Hewlett

Cast (in order of appearance): Evelyn Howe, Jaime Carrillo, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Melinda Lopez, Alejandro Simoes

Photo: Craig Bailey/Perspective Photo

- Nancy Grossman

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