The Motherfucker with the Hat
Studio Theatre in Washington, DC, has a reputation for stating things plainly and not worrying about the possibility of offense. For that reason, Studiounlike many other theater companies presenting Stephen Adly Guirgis' latest playis using the work's full, unexpurgated title: The Motherfucker with the Hat.
Director Serge Seiden has ably orchestrated Guirgis' story of five people on the edge, trying to make their way through addiction, lack of trust, a tenuous economy, and additional everyday challenges. The setting is New York City, which Eric Shimelonis' sound design brings into instant focus through a mixture of sirens, traffic sounds, and other street noises. The language is lavishly and hilariously profane throughout, and the staging includes a scene of male nudity.
Jackie (Drew Cortese), an ex-convict on parole and a recovering alcoholic, is determined to start making "grown-up plans" with a legitimate job and a life with his longtime girlfriend, Veronica (Rosal Colón). The initial complication is that, while he's given up alcohol, she's still snorting cocaine. Then Jackie discovers an unfamiliar hat in the apartment, which convinces him that Veronica has been unfaithful to him and drives him to seek comfort from his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Ralph D (Quentin Mará).
In a rapid sequence of scenes, Ralph Da smooth talker in a combative relationship with his wife Victoria (Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey)tries to fix everyone else's life while worrying about the future of his business selling "nutritional beverages." The fifth character, Jackie's nebbishy Cousin Julio (Liche Ariza), seeks fulfillment through athletic achievement (who knew surfing was even possible off New York's Rockaways?) and New Age healing practices.
The entire cast works beautifully, both as individuals and as an ensemble. Cortese is funny and touching as a man in over his head; Mará shows how a person can use sincerity as a weapon; the women have the opportunity to rant and holler; and Ariza seems like a genuinely nice character is a tough situation. The verbal and physical interplay among the characters is what propels the action, which incorporates some vividly staged business by fight director Robb Hunter.
Debra Booth's compact set relies on easily movable, individual pieces of furniturea bed, a table, a sofa, a few chairs, a self-contained shower unitto allow the scenes to proceed with a minimum of downtime. Ivania Stack's costumes emphasize character traits in an offhand way, especially Jackie's obviously clip-on tie.