So Amber and I went to go see The Edge Theatre’s production of The Motherfucker With the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Guirgis is one of our favorite playwrights- we did a production of his show The Last Days of Judas Iscariot our second season. Guirgis is not for the faint of heart. Guirgis makes you squirm in your seat, laugh out loud, blush and cry. This playwright has an amazing way of hitting you straight in the face with a truth in your life that you maybe didn’t want to acknowledge or conquer just yet. So hats off (see what I did there!?) to The Edge for trying to tackle one of his plays.
This was my first time in The Edge Theatre and the set is impressive! Most of the show takes place in two different apartments and they had a revolving stage to accomplish the two looks. A revolving stage in a small black box theatre space? Pretty damn impressive. It made me excited to see the show.
Now this production was very up and down for me. I feel as though the tone set by The Edge was one of outright comedy… their cellphone reminder contained the words “Motherfucker” numerous times, getting a huge laugh from the audience. However, The Motherfucker with the Hat is not really a comedy. Does it have very comedic parts? Yes. Does Guirgis always do an amazing job with balancing the powerful and heartbreaking with the shocking and hilarious? Absolutely. But is this a comedy in the laugh- out- loud traditional sense? No. Or at least it didn’t feel like it. So the tone going into the play felt off…
Now the two leads in the play, Kent Randell as Jackie and Karen Slack and Ronnie, had some power behind their performances. Nominated for the 2011 Best Play Tony Award, this story is a darkly comic view of addiction, friendship, and love. Jackie, a petty drug dealer, is just out of prison and trying to stay clean. He’s also still in love with his coke addict childhood sweetheart, Veronica. Without spoiling the plot for you, the final scene between Jackie and Ronnie is heartbreaking and beautiful. And these two actors had me engaged with a lump in my throat. They did a stunning job with a very hard scene.
The supporting actors, however, didn’t seem right for their roles- don’t get me wrong- they all seemed like talented actors in their own right, but I wasn’t buying what they were selling. Most of that comes from the setting of the play and the hardened characters that Guirgis has written. I think it is important to remember that Guirgis writes very distinct characters. The older couple, Ralph D and Victoria, are supposed to be ex-drug addicts, seemingly trying to live out a new clean lifestyle, but clearly encountering many temptations and road blocks along the way. In the production I saw, they seemed like two older people from the suburbs trying to play tough. The lines didn’t read as smoothly as they needed to and it made the situations hard to believe. There was a cultural aspect that just wasn’t there. The intention was there but the execution faltered.
Overall, I’m glad I saw the production. I think that with a bit more purpose behind the direction and with a better pace (it was 95 mins without an intermission, and it seemed like the actors felt rushed) that it had a bunch of promise. Again, The Edge Theatre took on a show that not many people would try based on the name alone. That’s brave.
When The Motherfucker with the Hat first came out, it came out to mixed reviews. Though not my favorite Guirgis show, I think that his views on the complexity of any relationship (with loved ones, with your mind, with your health, with your vices) are spot on: nothing is black and white and nothing is easy.
Check out the clip of the premier on Broadway to get a better idea of the plot and characters: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xF4KaR7D2ZY