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Theater Review (NYC): The Motherf**ker with the Hat

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Chris Rock. Stephen Adly Guirgis. They had me at “The.”

I’d been planning to see The Motherf**ker with the Hat since I heard that it was coming to Broadway and finally made it about one week before it closes. (Betta late than nevah ;)The Motherf*cker with the Hat

In characteristic Guirgis fashion, Mofo, as I affectionately call it, is a window into the lives of other-siders, where, while nobody is a total saint, the most (relatively) upright characters are the ones you (most likely) least expect. At its center is a love triangle among three addicts, two in recovery and one who’s currently using, including a sort of comic tragic hero, the ex-con Jackie (the remarkable Bobby Cannavale) who returns home to ebulliently share the news that he’s found a job with his feisty girlfriend Veronica (a tour de force from Elizabeth Rodriguez). As they are about to get busy, he spots the motherf**ker with the hat’s hat; and … I urge you to see for yourself.

This was the first time I’d seen a Guirgis play performed in its entirety, and one of the first things that struck me was its energy and intensity. From now on, when given the note by a director or acting teacher to “raise the stakes,” I will think about this production. From the very beginning of the show, the actors fuse Guirgis’ potent and poignant words with the force and fire—and the funny–embodied by the colorful characters they portray. In one of the scenes Jackie recounts an instance where he fires a gun and the bullet ricochets, which is an apt metaphor for the action and pace of Mofo. Once the lights come up, the play bangs, pows, and pings until its heartbreaking yet hopeful ending.

Mofo is a spectacular ensemble piece in every sense of the word, from the brilliant script and wonderful cast to the great direction and cool set design. (The set and set pieces rotate between the three apartments in which the play is set.) I was surprised to find that Mofo marks the Broadway debut of, not only Rock, but Guirgis and everyone in the cast except Bobby Cannavale, who blew me away. (I didn’t realize until afterward—I don’t usually follow the Tonys (tsk, tsk, I know)—that he was a contender with Mark Rylance for this year’s Lead Actor Tony. I have to admit that my allegiance is divided between the two, and Cannavale has an edge … for what that’s worth a month after the ceremony.) 

Chris Rock, who plays Ralph D., is at his best during his monologues, which he delivers in a way that I’ve come to associate with his stand-up. In those moments, his character’s words came across so Chris Rock-ish (real, raw, lively) that I wondered if the text had been written with him in mind and/or if he’d improvised some of it and it stayed in the show. (It probably goes without saying that I’m now that much more eager to see him do stand-up live.)

Ultimately, both Rock and Giurgis … and (especially) Cannavale and the rest of the cast … and Shapiro and the rest of the crew … delivered from “The” til “The End” of The Motherf**ker with the Hat. Make sure you catch it before it closes NEXT SUNDAY, July 17th.

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Image credit: applause-tickets.com

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