Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Philadelphia

The Motherfucker with the Hat
Theater Exile
Review by Rebecca Rendell


Scott Greer, Amanda Schoonover, J Hernandez,
and Zach Valdez

Photo by Paola Nogueras
A bit dark and extremely funny, the Philadelphia premier of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Motherfucker with the Hat hits just right. A stellar cast brings remarkable authenticity and excellent timing to Guirgis's gritty comedy. While the characters grapple with addiction, infidelity, and some serious impulse control issues, director Ozzie Jones focuses on more universal battles–specifically, the struggle to attain meaningful connection and self-efficacy. By focusing on these fundamental human desires, Jones keeps the ample humor and inevitable heartbreak widely accessible. Of course, a play with the mf-word in the title is not going to be for everyone, but if you don't mind a lot of cussing and a little onstage drug use, this Motherfucker is a seriously good time.

The action centers around Jackie (J Hernandez), a recovering addict trying to get his life together. Jackie arrives home excited to announce his new job to girlfriend Veronica (Daniela Malavé), but he is stopped in his tracks by another man's hat. Veronica refuses to reveal the owner of the highly suspicious headgear, setting off a chain of events that eventually ensnares Jackie's Cousin Julio (Zach Valdez), his AA sponsor Ralph D (Scott Greer), and even Ralph's wife Victoria (Amanda Schoonover).

Hernandez is effortlessly authentic as Jackie, an oddly likable asshole. Thoughtfully humble one moment and abrasively self-centered the next, Hernandez conveys the duality of a human being struggling with substance abuse. Girlfriend Veronica is coping with her own addiction and impulse control issues, plus Jackie's recovery, plus her mother's alcoholism. Daniela Malavé rises to the challenge, playing Jackie with a ferocity that has the audience rooting for her even as she makes one disastrous decision after another. I cannot say enough about Scott Greer's powerful work; his best lines land like a punch to the gut.

The funniest performance of the night comes from Philadelphia newcomer Zach Valdez. When we first meet Valdez, he is simultaneously lifting weights, frying empanadas, and shouting out the window. The tone of his voice suggests confrontation, but the conversation is about the relative merits of spinach filling versus garden vegetable. Zach makes it all work, imbibing cousin Julio with an offbeat charm that is essential to the success of the production. Amanda Schoonover is heartbreaking as Ralph's pitiable and ill-tempered wife.

Originally set in New York City, Jones's production highlights the opioid crisis in Philly's Kensington neighborhood. Colin McIlvaine's set design features a diorama of large hanging photographs depicting the hardships in Kensington. The set does not move much, so scene changes rely heavily on Alyssandra Docherty's dynamic lighting design.

Enraging, funny, and surprisingly life affirming, The Motherfucker with the Hat is not afraid to challenge stereotypes about drug abuse and relationships. Jones's production takes the messy and complicated world Guirgis has created and brings it to life with brutal honesty and ruthless humor. See the show. Leave the gun. Take the empanadas.

The Motherfucker with the Hat runs through February 27, 20222 at Theater Exile, 1340 S. 13th Street (corner of 13th and Reed Streets), Philadelphia PA. For tickets visit theatreexile.org or call 215-218-4022.

Cast:
J Hernandez: Jackie
Scott Greer: Ralph D
Daniela Malavé: Veronica
Amanda Schoonover: Victoria
Zach Valdez: Cousin Julio

Crew:
Ozzie Jones: Director
Matt Kiesling: Assistant Director
Colin McIlvaine: Set Designer
Alyssandra Docherty: Lighting Designer
Melissa Dunphy: Composer & Sound Designer
Tiffany Bacon: Costume Designer


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