Review: The Motherf**ker with the Hat
Stephen Adly Guirgis's punchy drama gives users, boozers and losers their say.
Tue Apr 12 2011
Photograph: Joan Marcus
A WORD FROM HIS SPONSOR Cannavale, left, shares his troubles with AA counselor...
A WORD FROM HIS SPONSOR Cannavale, left, shares his troubles with AA counselor Rock.
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Stephen Adly Guirgis's pulse-pounding new drama, The Motherf**ker with the Hat, has two stars in its title and two onstage as well—but not necessarily the ones you'd expect. The hype for Guirgis's foulmouthed, clear-eyed and clenched-fisted drama has mostly revolved around the theatrical debut of comedian Chris Rock. But the production's real light and heat come from Bobby Cannavale and Elizabeth Rodriguez, who tear up the Schoenfeld Theatre (and their vocal cords) as Jackie and Veronica, the play's volatile central couple. Addicts by nature, they got hooked on their relationship in high school, and now—roughly 20 years later, and a rough 20 years at that—they can't seem to quit each other, no matter how squalid their lives have become.
The Motherf**ker with the Hat is about users, both in the sense of druggies—booze, pot and coke are in play, and Jackie is in Alcoholics Anonymous as a condition of his parole from a prison term for dealing—and of people who manipulate others for gain. Even when speaking through the megaphone of Guirgis's post-Mametian lyrical profanity, the characters reveal a surprising complexity: The most aggressive have pockets of kindness, and the most sensitive can muster up violence. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro, the cast is mostly exceptional. Cannavale and Rodriguez bring extra vascularity to the muscular dialogue (his neck often seems about to burst); Yul Vzquez, as Jackie's effeminate cousin, and Annabella Sciorra, as a regretful former alkie, offer primo support.
The only thing holding the show back, alas, is Rock. In the pivotal role of Jackie's AA sponsor, Ralph, the gifted stand-up comic seems ill at ease; he doesn't know how to hold his body onstage, and his awkwardness is damaging to a character defined by his charisma. (One can't help feeling that the show might be even more powerful with his understudy, Ron Cephas Jones, in the part.) Each time Rock has a scene, The Motherfu**ker with the Hat falls off the dramatic wagon and takes a while to recover. But it finds its footing every time—with strength enough to kick.
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. By Stephen Adly Guirgis. Dir. Anna D. Shapiro. With Bobby Cannavale, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Rodriguez. 1hrs 35mins. No intermission.