More than an awesomely titled play by prolific playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, The Motherfucker With The Hat, which opened last night at GableStage, is a production taut with tension, is sardonically funny, and is carried by its sharp, quick, vulgar and whip-smart dialog that is both hilarious and thought-provoking.
It's a play about flawed people and the ambiguity of moral codes. It's about personal demons, consequences and the elusive possibility of change in the face of hardship.
Jackie (Arturo Fernandez) has been clean and sober for months. One afternoon, he comes home to his live-in cokehead girlfriend Veronica (Gladys Ramirez) to break the news that he's just landed a great job. But before the two can celebrate Jackie's new life of legitimate employment, he spots a hat that doesn't belong to him on a table. He confronts Veronica about it, and become enraged with jealousy. Jackie digs his face into the hat and smells it. He does the same with their pillows and mattress. "This bed smells like Aqua Velva and dick!" he cries out, pointing an accusatory finger at his ole lady.
In a real-life Jimi Hendrix Hey Joe moment, a hotheaded and lovesick Jackie gets himself a gun. He wants to shoot the motherfucker with the hat. He seeks out his AA sponsor, Ralph (Ethan Henry), to help him with his dilemma. But the shit is only beginning to hit the fan from here.
As Jackie tries to put the pieces of the puzzle together, eyeing an always well-dressed neighbor as the possible aforementioned motherfucker, his world begins to crack at the seams. Ralph is concerned Jackie will turn to the bottle to numb his pain. And when Jackie has an incident with the gun, he has to get his health-nut cousin Julio (Alex Alvarez) involved to help him hide the weapon.
At the heart of the tale is Jackie and Ralph's relationship. Ralph is Jackie's sponsor, and also his closest friend. But as Jackie's world begins to unravel, that friendship is strained. And it doesn't help matters that Ralph is a former addict himself, as we quickly learn that he's no angel, and that he has some secrets of his own.
There's a real camaraderie between the two actors that shine through in their banter, with Henry's strong-willed Ralph setting the tone for Jackie's salvation (or damnation). Fernandez's inflection as the street-wise Puerto Rican Jackie walked the tight rope of vulnerability and rage, and pretty much nailed it every time. But it was Alvarez's hilarious take as Jackie's effeminate, no-nonsense and loyal cousin Julio that brought the house down.
The Motherfucker With The Hat is raw and darkly hilarious, certainly one of the funniest you'll see at GableStage. It's fraught with F-bombs and circles the wagons on the flawed nature of men and women, especially in the face of addiction and in Jackie's own personal principles in particular. Somewhere in his complex characters, and their fucked up lives, Guirgis articulates to his audience that, whether it's karma or just plain bad luck, shit gets us in the end. Dealing with it "one day at a time" is, like any other ideology or dogma, really a matter of interpretation and perspective.
Look for our extended review in this week's issue
The Motherfucker With The Hat at GableStage at the Biltmore (1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables) runs through February 5. Tickets are $50 ($47.50 for seniors). Visit gablestage.org or call 305-445-1119.
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