Scott Rudin, Stuart Thompson,
Public Theatre Productions, Labyrinth Theater Company
The Motherf***** with The Hat
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Bobby Cannavale, Chris Rock,
Elizabeth Rodriguez, Annabella Sciorra, Yul Vasquez
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street
Scenic Design: Todd Rosenthal
Costume Design: Mimi O’Donnell
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Original Music by Terence Blanchard
Casting: Jordan Thaler & Heidi Griffiths
Production Stage Manager: Charles Means
Production Management: Aurora Productions
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
General Management: STP/Marshall B. Purdy
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
May 17, 2011
Every once in a while, a night at the theatre grabs you with astounding and mesmerizing moments of drama, humor, or emotion. Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherf***** with the Hat grabbed me with close to two hours of drama, humor, and emotion, and I didn’t want this play to end. My guest had been a New Jersey school-mate of Bobby Cannavale, and he offered to coach me on “ghetto-speak”. I needed no coaching. This play is loud and clear with an ensemble of five actors whose careers are now glazed in gold. Chris Rock, a stand-up comedian, is making his Broadway debut here, and as Ralph D., best friend and addiction advisor to Jackie (Bobby Cannavale), as well as husband to Victoria (Annabella Sciorra), he plays a confident, coy, conniving, charming survivor. I say survivor, because one fight scene had the audience holding its collective breath. In fact, I was surprised the credits didn’t list a fighting coach, until I realized these characters didn’t need coaching. Mr. Rock’s Ralph is a smooth-talking, fast paced character, whose betrayals don’t even rattle his cool.
Bobby Cannavale, however, blazes with vein-popping histrionics, naked angst, and gut-wrenching need, all expressed in writhing despair, laced with dark humor. The viewer gets ready to laugh, and then there’s an alarming ambush. Mr. Cannavale is introduced after an incredibly powerful monologue by Elizabeth Rodriguez, as Veronica, Jackie’s drug-addicted girlfriend. Veronica is talking on the phone with her mother, another offstage, angst-ridden relationship. Her unprintable diatribe was hilarious. She refers to a man her mother wants her to meet as Attila the Hun, then has to explain to her Hispanic mother what a Hun is. Ms. Rodriguez emotes so many ranges of histrionics, that I wondered how she kept breathing. Like Mr. Cannavale, her performance was visceral. When she’s eventually confronted by Jackie, the dialogue is thick with psychic electricity. You can almost hear her think.
Annabella Sciorra, as Victoria, is a quieter presence, but this character is equally needy, while more restrained. Her behavior rings from different roots, but her pain is palpable. Jackie’s cousin, Julio, is played by Yul Vasquez, a calm, gym-fit, health and nutrition pro, who grows plants and has mixed sensitivities, blunt opinions, and a killer instinct. Julio is the most endearing of the five, who, unlike the others, embodies thick skin and nerves of steel. Each of the actors, solo, or in combined duo or trio, seizes attention like a choreographed dancer. In fact, the language of this play is choreographed with rhythm, volume, and power. I may return, just to watch this fine talent dramatizing this fine script. Todd Rosenthal created a set that turns about, revealing the entry to Veronica’s dingy apartment, Ralph and Victoria’s more upscale living room, and Julio’s patio and plants. Above the set rise skyscrapers and jagged architectural angles.
There’s no intermission, and we watch the scene shift, as Terence Blanchard’s jazz wafts through the theatre. Mimi O’Donnell’s costumes were understated and uncluttered, with Julio’s showing off his obsessive gym regimen. Donald Holder’s lighting was warm, enhancing each character’s tone. Anna Shapiro directs for sharp physicality of gesture. Each ensemble actor is maximizing emotion and rendering natural nuance. Kudos to this cast, and kudos to Stephen Adly Guirgis.
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