By Stephen Adly Guirgis; Directed by Peter Jensen
Off Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 11.19.16
T. Schreiber Theatre, 151 West 26th Street, 7th Floor
by Elizabeth Kipp-Giusti on 10.25.16
Omar Bustamante and Viviana Valeria in The Motherf***er With The Hat.
BOTTOM LINE: A sharply funny revival of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ complex story about how even good people can be motherf**kers.
Jackie (Omar Bustamante) is just about to get his life together. Newly released from Rikers Island, he has a new job, a new AA sponsor, and hope for the future. Veronica (Viviana Valeria), his longtime love, welcomes him home with flirtatious affection and support, built on the foundation of their tangled history together. Things are going well. That’s when Jackie notices a stranger’s motherf**king hat on the table. With the smell of Aqua Velva and mistrust, truths and trust begin to unravel, leading Jackie and Veronica down a path of discovery, loss, and empanadas. A darkly comic story about friendship and addiction, The Motherf**ker With The Hat reveals the brutal reality of people’s complexities.
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ heartbreaking script about two f**kups trying hard not to f**k up again has great rhythms, capitalizing on hyper-specific details about New York City and linguistic clues that honor the Puerto Rican heritage of the show’s central characters. It’s also full of graphic language and cringe-worthy unexpected plot twists that evoke audible gasps from the audience. Director Peter Jensen, the Artistic Director of T. Schreiber Theatre, builds patient early scenes with this compelling cast, with great, tragic payoff later in the show when the story’s secrets come to light. Capitalizing on the show’s central mystery, he has smartly chosen to highlight the ways in which every character is suspect by dressing the actors in the same titular black fedora for the many elegant scene changes. Miguel Urbino’s clever set designs create three distinct worlds for the characters to move through, each with intricate, thoughtful details. Sound and light design by Andy Evan Cohen and Eric Cope, respectively, also are subtly smart; when characters watch television, there is a noticeable light shift, and savvy audience members will be able to recognize theme music to TV shows. The universe of the world of The Motherf**ker With The Hat is coherent and believable.
The cohesion of this production is also due in no small part to the strong performances of the cast. As Jackie, Omar Bustamante has great emotional range, vacillating between explosive anger and raw vulnerability. In their shared scenes, he and Viviana Valeria show us their characters’ patterns of self-sabotage with a nuanced flaws-and-all transparency. Meanwhile, as Jackie’s hyper-calm AA sponsor Ralph, Casey Braxton provides us with a wickedly good pivot halfway through the show, and the accepting image he paints early is revealed to have a horribly corrupted dark side. Braxton plays Ralph with a grounded confidence that is infinitely engaging; it becomes obvious why he is so easy, if dangerous, to trust. Jill Bianchini, Ralph’s beleaguered and broken wife Victoria, makes the most of her few scenes with a pointedly focused portrayal of resentment. Finally, Robby Ramos’ hilarious Cousin Julio, the health nut with a passion for Jean Claude van Damme violence, steals every scene he is in with perfect comedic timing and a genuine kindness that makes him infinitely believable. A graduate of the T. Schreiber one-year acting conservatory, he is a great advertisement for the quality of their instruction and a talent to watch.
Explaining why he is willing to help Jackie with a dangerous confrontation, Cousin Julio tells him a story about when they were kids together in Harlem, smoking on the Columbia University sundial after dark and talking about speedboats. He paints a picture of Jackie as a flawed but kind little boy, full of mistakes and love. The same boy is at the center of The Motherf**ker With The Hat, which pushes against stereotypes and expectations through high-octane verbal sparring and complex characters, and speaks about addiction and trust without falling into generalizations. T. Schreiber’s excellent production should be a feather in their cap.
(The Motherf**ker With The Hat plays at T. Schreiber Theatre, 151 West 26th Street, 7th Floor, through November 19, 2016. The running time is one hour and forty minutes with an intermission. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8; and Wednesday November 9 and 16 at 2. Tickets are $20 and are available at TSchreiber.org or by calling 866-811-4111.)
The Motherf**ker With The Hat is written by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Peter Jensen. Produced by T. Schreiber Theatre. Producing Director is Halle Morse. Assistant Director is Jennifer Weiser. Set Design is by Miguel Urbino. Lighting Design is by Eric Cope. Sound Design is by Andy Evan Cohen. Costume Design is by Sherry Martinez. Prop Master is Lilian Sun. Stage Manager is Clarissa Marie Ligon. Assistant Stage Manager is Tai Thompson and Jessica Baird. Production Assistant is Raquel Loving. Technical Direction is by Ana Dratz. Master Electrician is Mitchell Ost. Fight Choreography is by Randall Rodriguez. Stagehand Mark Tacderas. Press Representative Andrea Alton PR. Graphic Art and Design is by Clarissa Marie Ligon.
The cast is Viviana Valeria, Omar Bustamante, Casey Braxton, Jill Bianchini, and Robby Ramos.