‘The Motherf***er with the Hat’ is visceral entertainment

The Motherf***er with the Hat, written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, is an energetic play that overflows with argumentative passion. The five cast members, including Chris Rock in his Broadway debut, are all fine specimens of what can happen when a good play is given to good actors.

Bobby Cannavale plays Jackie, a recovering alcoholic who’s still on parole after his latest stint in prison. His girlfriend, Veronica (the fiery Elizabeth Rodriguez), welcomes Jackie home with open arms and a few celebratory snorts of cocaine. Startled by her drug use and suspicious of a hat that was left in their apartment by another guy, Jackie begins to look at his relationship with Veronica in a completely different way. Maybe this romance, which began in grade school, won’t end in marriage.

Rock plays Jackie’s sponsor, Ralph D., a man content with the absence of frivolity in his life. He enjoys energy drinks and remains a cool cat, even when his wife, Victoria (Annabella Sciorra) lobs profanity after profanity his way.

Jackie consults with his sponsor on what to do over Veronica and this hat, which continues to breed doubt in his mind. Is it evidence that she’s having an affair with the guy down the hall? Did she stay faithful while he was in prison? To help solve these problems, Jackie employs the help of his cousin, Julio (Yul Vazquez), who has no problem going “Van Damme” onĀ  the titular character’s ass.

Guirgis has spun a palpable web that comes to life thanks to the energy of the superb cast. His words are laced with venom and the fighting among the characters seems to continue from beginning to end. But in their arguments is a verbal ballet that is thrilling to experience. Cannavale, in particular, makes the play a wholly satisfying affair. When everything seems to be going wrong in life, whether with the inability to connect with his sponsor or Veronica’s supposed cheating, he keeps the actions severely human. Although there is certainly a “play” feel to the plot of The Motherf***er with the Hat, the 90-minute piece is still populated with real characters.

Rock achieves a solid Broadway debut (admittedly, his role is a supporting one), and Vazquez and Rodriguez both turn in finely-tuned performances. Sciorra is unfortunately given the one part in the piece that feels unexplored and underwritten. She does the best with what little she is given.

Anna Shapiro, who spun a similar argumentative yarn in August: Osage County, proves an adept captain to Guirgis’s choppy waters.

The Motherf***er with the Hat is the definition of visceral; it a communion of quality writing, top-notch acting and fast-paced direction. It brings to life a real story about real people struggling in the city; for its contentment at keeping its plot small and personal, the production should be commended.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
  • The Motherf***er with the Hat

  • A production of the Public Theater and Labyrinth Theater Company

  • Directed by Anna Shapiro

  • Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

  • Starring Bobby Cannavale, Chris Rock, Elizabeth Rodriguez, Annabella Sciorra and Yul Vazquez

  • Playing at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre at 235 W. 45th St. in New York City

  • Click here for more information. Tickets are $66.50-$276.50, with discounts available.

  • Running time: 90 minutes

  • Bubble score: 3.5 out of 4

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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