The Motherf**ker with the Hat
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
April 12, 2011
I don't know if Stephen Adly Guirgis started out calling his play "The Motherfucker with the Hat" and then was told by someone (or everyone) that he had to replace that uc with **. In any event, the play is now called, officially, as far as I can tell (i.e., on the marquee, in the program, and on every press release I've seen) The Motherf**ker with the Hat. But be warned: despite this rather ridiculous-seeming attempt to shield the unwary from offensive language, nobody on the stage of the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre ever says "f**k" (which I'm not even sure how to pronounce anyway). No, they say "fuck," or any number of colorful variants/derivatives thereof. And they say it a lot. A LOT.
And, in a way, that's almost all you need to know. If the sight of five characters, three or four of whom are pathetic losers (there is definitely some subjectivity in that assessment), shouting and fighting with one another and saying "fuck" over and over again for 90 minutes has appeal to you, then by all means check out Broadway's newest dramatic offering. But if you're turned off by the prospect of dialogue littered not only with "fuck" but also with one-liners suitable for a third-rate sitcom, and character development that stays mired in repugnance and ignobility, then you may want to avoid Guirgis's annoying play.
It tells the story of Jackie, who has recently served 26 months in prison for some drug-related crime. When we first meet him, he arrives in the New York apartment he shares with his long-time girlfriend Veronica full of joy and optimism. He's gotten a new job, he's been alcohol- and drug-free for months now (thanks to the support of his sponsor, Ralph), and he's deeply in love with Veronica, whom he has brought a passel of gifts including flowers, chocolate, and a tiny teddy bear. (If the dialogue in this scene had been the least bit believable I might have even liked Jackie just a bit.)
But while Jackie is disrobing and Veronica is showering (for they are going to make love—the only time in this play where this kinder and gentler synonym for "fuck" can be said to apply), he discovers something disturbing: a man's hat—not his own—on a table in their apartment. He checks the bed and finds tell-tale signs of a stranger—the smell, as he shouts shortly to Veronica, of "Aqua Velva and dick." Veronica, as practiced a liar and manipulator as I've ever seen, allows as how she is insulted by his accusation of her infidelity. But Jackie's not buying it, and so the eponymous gentleman with the chapeau (who, Jackie believes, lives downstairs) is about to be on the receiving end of Jackie's wrath.
And then all hell breaks lose. Jackie moves in with Ralph and Ralph's wife Victoria (who, when we first meet her, shrewishly spews epithets at Ralph from offstage but in a later scene is revealed to be smarter and kinder than we initially give her credit for). Jackie brings the gun with which he menaced the motherfucker with the hat to his cousin Julio, who, despite the fact that the two don't get along and despite the fact that he doesn't want to be involved in a crime (Jackie is on parole, remember), agrees to hide the gun anyway "for Jackie's moms." Veronica continues to lie about pretty much everything. Ralph, so smooth and seemingly in control, turns out to be almost as rotten a human being as Veronica. And so on.
I don't mean to be dismissive, but The Motherf**ker with the Hat is so inconsequential in terms of theme and so gross and gratuitous in terms of storytelling and theatricality that the only thing I want to do, having had to sit through it, is dismiss it. I mean no disrespect to any of the five actors in the play when I say that they are slumming here (especially Bobby Cannavale, who plays Jackie, and Annabella Sciorra, who plays Victoria, both of whom I've seen do much better work elsewhere). Chris Rock, the most famous person in the cast, is fine, but his role (Ralph) is relatively small and affords him little opportunity to demonstrate any range or depth as an actor. Anna D. Shapiro's staging, generally competent, does not keep the play from feeling dull and slow-moving. And Todd Rosenthal's set, which puts three different apartments on two revolving units, actually malfunctioned during the performance I attended, causing a several-minute stage wait that seemed ill-managed by everyone involved.