The 90-minute play is set in New York City, where a recovering addict named Jackie (Arturo Fernandez) is just out of jail and determined to stay clean and sober. He returns to his grungy, one-room apartment, where he lives with his longtime girlfriend Veronica (Gladys Ramirez), with the triumphant news he's landed a job that even offers room for advancement. His joy is short-lived, however, as he spots a man's hat that clearly does not belong to him, resting on her nightstand. When he accuses Veronica of cheating, her hot-tempered response is fueled by her own active drug use; she is an addict with no plans of stopping.
Jackie turns to his AA sponsor Ralph D (Ethan Henry) for consolation and advice, and nearly ends up sleeping with his wife Victoria (Betsy Graver). He turns to his cousin Julio (Alex Alvarez) for assistance as well when he needs help hiding a gun he's borrowed with mischief in mind. In the end, his decision on how to handle what may or may not have happened is his alone.
The logic offered by Jackie's supposedly more mature AA sponsor, Ralph D, is that you pretty much can do whatever you want, and treat people however you wish. As long as you stay sober it doesn't matter. Ralph D's version of "one day at a time" somewhat lacks a moral responsibility to his fellow man. Though Jackie is struggling with his sobriety and his circumstances, he knows that there is more to living a clean life than just staying sober. In the last scene he shows surprising depth in his response to Ralph D: "Your world view? It ain't mine. And the day it is, that's the day I shoot myself in the head. I didn't get clean to live like that.
As one may discern from the title, The Motherf**ker With The Hat is loaded with coarse language, so be sure to leave the children at home. Once the audience gets past giggling at the nature of the language, it settles in to be an honest pattern of communication for the characters. It's key that the relationships seem real, and they certainly do in the hands of Fernandez as Jackie and Ramirez as the fiery Veronica. They have the believable chemistry of a romantic relationship built on passion and conflict. The language is handled well, and the pacing and delivery by all the actors in the show is top notch.
A stand out performance is given by Alvarez as Jackie's cousin Julio. He is perfectly cast in a role that provides ample opportunity for comedy. His colorful portrayal of Julio adds considerable humor to this production. He would surely steal the show if not matched by talented actors around him.
Scenic designer Lyle Baskin continues to amaze with his ability to maximize the use of every inch of the fairly small stage at the Gablestage. The levels created to represent three different apartments all work well independently, and solid lighting by Jeff Quinn makes the spaces feel separate.
However foul-mouthed the script may be, this production of The Motherf**ker With The Hat is smart, funny, tight, well cast, cleanly directed, and rings with truthful relationship observations that will make you laugh.
Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is the recipient of new play commissions from Manhattan Theatre Club, Center Theater Group, and South Coast Repertory. He is a member of New Dramatists, MCC's Playwright's Coalition, New River Dramatists, Primary Stages, and The Actor's Studio D's Unit. In addition to The Motherf**ker With The hat, his other plays include Race, Religion and Politics, Den of Thieves, Jesus Hopped the A Train, The Little Flower of East Orange, Our Lady of 121st Street, In Arabia, We'd All Be Kings, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, and Dominica The Fat Ugly Ho.
The Motherf**ker With The Hat will be appearing at The GableStage through February 5, 2012. The GableStage is located in the eastern section of the Biltmore Hotel, at 1200 Anastasia Avenue, in Coral Gables, Florida. Valet parking is available, or free parking is available in the Biltmore parking area west of the hotel. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m.. For tickets and information you may reach them at 305-445-1119 or online at www.GablesStage.org.
The GableStage, formerly known as the Florida Shakespeare Theatre, is a professional theatre presenting classic and contemporary theatre year round. They are members of the Theatre League of South Florida, the Florida Cultural Alliance, the Theatre Communications Group, SouthFloridaTheatre.com and the Dade Cultural Alliance. The GableStage hires local and non-local Equity and non-union actors and actresses, and is involved with the educational community in promoting educational theatre programs.
*Indicates a member of Actors' Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States.
Photo: George Schiavone