By Chuck Conconi
It is important to get the profane title – The Motherf**ker with the Hat – out of the way and move on to realizing that the play rises far above any snickering, shock value of the title. The asterisk protected Motherf**cker, as it appears in print advertisements, is a brilliant and thought-provoking production now being performed at the Studio Theatre. Ignore the title, and if profane language offends you, then don’t attend. If you make that decision, however, you will have missed a significant theatrical experience.
The author, Stephen Adly Guirgis, writes about people of the underclass of New York City. They are real, often angry people who drink too much, use drugs, and have sex outside of their committed relationships. They are not all that different than the rest of us, except being at a lower economic level. They talk a language filled with familiar vulgarities that flow smoothly and comfortably through their conversations. It takes a few minutes to get past the shock and nervous amusement of so much profanity, but then it seems normal and of little consequence. What is more important is that Guirgis has such a remarkable ear for the speech patterns of his characters. The way they talk and act feels authentic and natural. In fact, profanities are what most of us hear at the office and at the best social events.
Guirgis is like a 21st century John Steinbeck with a symphony and understanding of people at the lower rungs of society, trying to cope with drugs, alcohol, infidelity, love and survival. They are conflicted people with a code of behavior they desperately try to maintain, and are genuinely surprised when things don’t go as smoothly as expected. They are all of us, even though most of us like to believe we are more refined.
The five-member cast – Rosal Colon, Drew Cortese, Quentin Mare, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey and Liche Ariza – adeptly handle the intense emotions Guirgis demands under the smart, deft direction of Serge Seiden, who clearly understands the people Guirgis knows and loves and treats the characters with the respect they deserve. The play pivots on Jackie, a confused, tragic figure, trapped in a world he doesn’t understand, stuck with having served jail time and in love with a woman who is an addict and has been unfaithful to him, hence the title when he sees a hat in their apartment that isn’t his. Drew Cortese so successfully portrays Jackie’s anger, love and confusion that he almost brings you to tears. A normal life is just within his grasp, and then it isn’t.
Cortese is someone to watch as his career will certainly grow. The same can be said of the other cast members who bring a painful reality and depth to the characters they portray.
The Motherf**ker with the Hat is a sensitive play, sensitively directed and performed. The stark sets designed by Debra Booth contribute to the hopelessness and despair of the characters and is complimented by being staged in Studio’s intimate Metheny Theatre.