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.
By Chuck Conconi
There are rare times in the theatre when a play that has been around for centuries will surprise you with a brilliant, well conceived and acted production, unexpected because it is so familiar. The Folger Theatre production of Henry V, which runs through March 3, does that. It is one of Shakespeare’s easily recognizable plays with young king’s familiar Saint Crispin’s Day ringing oration before leading his vastly outnumbered troops once more into the battle at Agincourt. It is one of the great Shakespearian dramas that is as contemporary as today’s news. Henry V is all about the grim human sacrifices of war, the unrealistic call of patriotism, and a callow king who is tested in battle and becomes a better leader of men than even he realizes he can be.
As envisioned and directed by Robert Richmond, Henry V at the Folger is a rare theatrical production where everything is right, from the set to the costumes, to the music and lighting, and especially to the 13 member troop of players performing the 48 characters of the play. There is no argument that the intimate Folger Theatre is a setting that profoundly enhances the Shakespearean experience, but to say that detracts from this marvelous production that taxes the ability in finding the proper superlatives.
Henry V is the inexperience king on a campaign to seize the throne of France who faces a superior force on the fields of Agincourt, and against the overwhelming odds, is victorious. Richmond describes the play as “a young man’s rite of passage.” And Zach Appleman, who portrays the callow king, is simply mesmerizing. Anyone who sees this production will forever measure any future productions by the standard Appleman has set.
Every member of this remarkable cast deserves recognition, and it seems unfair not to praise individual performances. There are performances, however, that must be listed. That includes Richard Sheridan Willis, who as the chorus, sets the scene, Louis Butelli as the tragic Bardolph, and Katie deBuys who, in two significant roles — one an impressionable English boy who follows off to war and later as Katherine of France who is marry Henry. Henry and Katherine have a delightful, memorable scene together — the English king in halting French attempting to express his love, the beautiful princess in hesitant English, being coy and coquettish.
One of Richmond’s additions to the production is the mesmerizing music of Jessica Witchger, who plays an exciting, sometimes melancholy violin background. She also plays the harp. Her inclusion into the background of the production, is still another example of Richman’s deft hand.
Mariah Hale’s costumes are respectful of the historic period. Tony Cisek designed a functional minimalist set with massive timbers that are lowered or pulled back to establish the moods of Andrew Griffin’s lighting design and Michael Rasbury’s sound design. Not to be overlooked is the complex stage fighting by fight director Casey Kaleba.