Chicago Culture Vulture

devouring theatre, film, and food

“The Motherfucker with the Hat” is Motherfucking Good

mother2

Jackie is turning his life around. He’s served his prison sentence, sobered up, and just landed a full-time job as a porter with an NYC real estate company. He’s getting ready for a night of spoiling his girlfriend when he sees it: a hat. A hat that is not his.

Betrayal, trust, and truth are the well-worn themes tore up in Stephen Adly Guirgis’ pitch-perfect “The Motherfucker with the Hat.” After a successful Broadway debut in 2011, the profanity and drug-laced production is enjoying the slot as Steppenwolf’s first play of 2013. Let the title serve as a fair introduction to the language of the play; Martha Lavey’s well-penned program note even acknowledges the potentially off-putting vernacular. But behind the fucks, shits, and damns, which are poetically crafted in a sort of street Shakespeare, are deeply relatable humans, heartbroken and bruised.

In the play, Jackie, brilliantly played by the charismatic and empathetic John Ortiz, must come to grip with his assumptions and choices as he sets out to confront the titular motherfucker. His AA sponsor, friends, family, lovers, and all the blurred lines in between try their best to help, but ultimately Jackie’s choices belong to him. A tight ensemble, drawn largely from the LAByrinth Theatre Company (the play’s original workshopper and producer) and Chicago’s Teatro Vista, round out this cast of characters, soliciting tears from both sadness and laughter. Jimmy Smits, of Dexter, NYPD, Blue, and L.A. Law fame, steps into the role of Ralph D, originally played on Broadway by powerhouse Chris Rock. This AA sponsor with problems of his own serves as a foil to Jackie’s spontaneity, as a calmer, calculated more brooding figure that doesn’t always practice the sermon he preaches. Sandra Delgado and Sandra Marquez give strong performances as Veronica and Victoria, the women of the play who dance the tightrope between speaking out and being spoken down to. But the most surprising performance comes from Gary Perez, who plays Jackie’s cousin Julio. In a particularly poignant scene, Jackie lashes out at Julio, who has done nothing but unconditionally love his confused and hurt nephew. Jackie refuses to call Julio his friend, and Julio reacts with pained silence. The stage, and audience, stand still for 30 seconds.

Anna D. Shapiro, who helmed the epic family drama “August: Osage County,” directs the brilliant cast in a story that veers from comedy to tragedy like a hat tossed about in a tornado. Todd Rosenthal’s set is similarly able to capture a duality: the tiny apartments of NYC and the massive high-rises and fire escapes they combine to become. His set twists and turns as the action whips back and forth between three apartments, offering us a chance to peer into what happens behind these neighbor’s closed doors.

But, truly, the show is damn funny. What’s even funnier is watching a batch of straight-laced, uptight Steppenwolf subscribers giggle at curse words for an hour and forty minutes. The giggles don’t come from a place of “Look at the silly poor people on stage,” but from an appreciation of a clever and well-written play that makes even the most foul-mouthed motherfucker sympathetic.

Haberdash to Steppenwolf to catch “The Motherfucker with the Hat” through March 3, 2013. For tickets, visit http://www.steppenwolf.org

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Information

This entry was posted on January 18, 2013 by in Theatre Review and tagged , .
%d bloggers like this: