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In the next to the last scene of Road Less Traveled Theater’s production of “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” by Stephen Adly Guirgis, and expertly directed by Victoria Perez, the protagonist Jackie says, “Funny how a person can be more than one thing.” If this former drug dealer, recently paroled, and now sober young man had known this in the first scene, well… then there wouldn’t have been a play.
So, you could say this is a coming of age story, wherein Jackie gradually grasps that the black and white world he so desperately wants to believe in, where love is pure and conquers all, and people are what they seem, is in reality many shades of gray. You could also say it’s a play about honor, love, friendship, and betrayal. You could say it’s very funny, even hilarious at times, and irreverent from the first. And that it’s full of pathos, desperation, and violence, both psychological and physical, yet carries a sweet poignancy, particularly in the character of Jackie’s “mariconcito” cousin, Julio.
The word "f*ck" almost becomes a character in the play. A handout included with the program notes the possible etymology of the word and its uses as an adjective, noun, and verb. And, my favorite, is that "flying f*ck" originally meant to have sex on horseback. (Surprising that Hollywood hasn’t taken that on, or have I missed something?) The characters in the play use this word in all its permutations, over and over, until it becomes an incantation, invoking the myriad ways in which people use and are used by each other.
The childhood sweethearts Jackie (Anthony Alcocer) and Veronica (Melinda Capeles-Rowe) open the play with Veronica talking to her addict mother while snorting a line of coke. Sober Jackie arrives with great news about getting a job and is ready for hot, hot sex. These two are a tsunami of energy, pouring unbridled sexuality all over the apartment, until Veronica goes into the shower and Jackie spies a man’s hat that isn’t his on a chair. He sniffs out that another man has had sex in the apartment. Uh oh. Jackie and Veronica are not contemplative people. All hell breaks loose in the ensuing confrontation. They go from zero to sixty in a nanosecond, Jackie accusing, Veronica denying, both screaming and cursing, on and on. I thought they might explode. They throw their bodies around the apartment in a frenzy of anger and fear. The dialogue is fast paced and crude. And that’s just the beginning.
After the confrontation, Jackie goes to his AA sponsor, Ralph (Greg Howze) who prays with Jackie and talks to him about AA precepts. Mr. Howze oozes platitudes about acceptance, nutrition and yoga, as he tries to talk Jackie down, and his wife, Victoria (Rosa Fernandez), comments from the kitchen. Jackie’s journey then takes him and Ralph to Cousin Julio (Rolando Martin Gomez), the maker of empanadas, green eggs, and a hair growing product that includes harissa, a hot chili pepper paste. Mr. Martin Gomez is wonderful in this role. In a later scene with Jackie, his kindness, compassion and understanding of who he is introduces a quality of gentleness and reminds Jackie of his better self before the drugs, the violence, and prison.
The actors fully inhabit their characters. They are passionate and profane, outrageous in their speech and behavior. Yet, they are fully human, doing their best in a world in which they are marginalized. Each seems perfect for their role, a testament to their acting chops and Ms. Perez' casting. She directs them all with a sure hand from a script whose language is gentle, witty, gross, violent, and always demanding. The fight between Jackie and Ralph was so realistic, I was concerned for their safety.
The use of lighted New York subway stop signs and a voiceover announcing which station the train would be coming into is very effective in differentiating between the apartments of Veronica, Ralph, and Julio. John Rickus, Light Design, Katie Menke, Sound Design, and Lynne Koscielniak, Set Design make the transitions happen very quickly in this fast moving play.
If there is a weakness in the play, it is that so much verbiage is being spewed all at once, it can be difficult to keep up. At times it felt like there could be a bit less verbiage, but that may just be a personal preference, being of the "less is more" school of thought. This play is definitely more - and more and more. And it is very entertaining.
Road Less Traveled Theater’s mission is “to tell stories which are important to our community, reflect our lives, and reveal our common relationships and diverse humanity.” This play reflects all of those things without losing anything in the way of personal story-telling. Learning about the New York Puerto Rican community, seeing the results of the proliferation of drugs that breed violence and upend lives in our communities, and the underlying unease of people in a society that considers them outsiders, are all important in our world today.
If you are shocked by hearing very foul language and seeing overt sexuality on stage, this may not be the play for you. On the other hand, it might be fun to step out of your comfort zone for an hour and forty-five minutes of non-stop in-your-face theater.
Performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00 through April 2.
The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Sat Mar 11th → Sun Apr 2nd
Days: Sun, Thu, Fri, Sat
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