The characters are lively, the language is crisp and urban, and the acting is skilled in Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Motherf**ker with the Hat. The energy of classic salsa music in the house helps pump up the energy at T. Schreiber Theatre’s exciting production. Guirgis’s unabashedly vulgar play explores themes of love, morality and choice in one of the most diverse cities in the world, New York. His characters, although primarily of Puerto Rican extraction, encompass the multiple ethnicities of the city. Most are plagued with addictions and afflictions that raises the stakes of their every move. The play, one of Guirgis’s best, is both hilarious and thought-provoking.
It starts with a high energy-conversation. Veronica (Viviana Valeria) is on the phone with her mother, who has an addiction to alcohol; Veronica dislikes her mother’s fish-faced boyfriend and tells her, “You’re dating a “fuckin’ big-time loser with a head like a actual fuckin’ fish! …Ma, when you see him tonight: Take a moment. Take a breath. Take a real good look and just ax yourself in all honesty—‘Do I wanna fuck him—or fry him up with a little adobo and paprika...?’”
Wrapped around the jokes and comic dialogue lies the issue of coping, or rather, surviving. Guirgis’s characters are struggling with heavy substance abuse and making it one day at a time. Each day is a journey for them. They include Jackie (Omar Bustamante) who enters with flowers in his hands and greets Veronica with enthusiasm and love. He chants a rhythmic “These flowers are for my Beautiful Boriqua Taino Mamacita Love Me Long Time Princess fuckin’ Beauty Queen.” Having just landed a job, Jackie wants to celebrate. He begins talking about their future, possible promotions—their life together. Still, Veronica is having trouble getting clean..
While Veronica takes a shower, Jackie finds a hat—a hat he knows does not belong to him. He smells the bed and pillows. He then asks Veronica, “Why the bed smell like Aqua Velva and dick?” But Veronica denies any infidelity and tries to calm him down by suggesting they go eat some pie. (That’s right, pie.) He reluctantly agrees.
Ralph D (Casey Braxton) is another one of the conflicted characters in the play. As a sponsor, he is guiding Jackie on the path to sobriety. Yet he is also the cause of Jackie’s fall. Ralph D has had an affair with Veronica while Jackie was in jail. Although Ralph D cares about Jackie, he has completely betrayed him. Ralph D has stayed “clean” from his additions, but he is not "clean" morally or ethically. Victoria (Jill Bianchini) and Jackie try as well, but inevitably fall off the wagon.
Among the charismatic, enigmatic characters is also Cousin Julio (Bobby Ramos). Julio helps Jackie hide a gun that he has used to threaten the man he thought was the owner of the hat. “Leave the gun. Take the empanadas,” he advises, in one of many comic lines. Julio is a delicious dichotomy of a character. Humorous and deep, he values family and is brutally honest, and Ramos’s performance is a crowd-pleaser.
Director Peter Jensen keeps the production’s energy high, and scenic designer Miguel Urbino uses sets that are minimal yet functional. They resemble an urban setting that captures the lives of these characters. Sound designer Andy Evan Cohen provides a taste of the urban Latino scene in New York City with salsa and hip-hop playing between scenes and during intermission—including “So Fresh and So Clean” by Outkast and classics by Hector Lavoe.
The Motherf**er with the Hat is a production you won't want to miss.
The Motherf**er with the Hat plays through Nov. 19 at T. Schreiber Theatre (151 W. 26th St.) Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday; matinees are at 2 p.m. Nov. 9 and 16. Tickets are $20 for general admission; $30 for reserved seating; $40 for dinner plus VIP reserved seating. For more information, call (212) 352-3101 or visit tschreiber.org. The production contains graphic language.