Ben Brantley called it "the play that dare not speak its name," but he praised its insights into moral relativism. What's truth? What's honesty? Are my flaws less awful than yours? THE MOTHER...WITH THE HAT (and yes, the word "mother is an abbreviation) Stephen Adly Guirgis asks all of those things, None of them are fully answered; the characters in the play, unrelatable to any individual audience member as they may be, are symbols of all of us living in an imperfect world. The drug-dealing ex-con, his AA sponsor, his addicted girlfriend, the sponsor's girl who's in recovery, the unseen downstairs neighbor with a collection of chapeaux - who is the real "mother," with or without the hat?

In Bob Checchia's production at Ephrata Performing Arts Center, our hero Jackie's (played by Julian Ruiz) money is on the downstairs neighbor that he thinks is having an affair with his girl Veronica (Helene D. Reeser), but it seems even more likely to be Jackie himself, worked up as he is. He takes his problem to his sponsor, Ralph (Jeremy Patterson, in an excellent performance). who doesn't have much sympathy for problems that Jackie is clearly creating for himself. Ralph can cite chapter and verse of the AA Big Book to call Jackie on his crap, and does. Maybe Jackie is indeed the real "mother," hat or no.

But as in real life, everything isn't as it seems. Ralph is cheating on his girl Victoria (Andi Jo Hill), and is clearly in a "do as I say, not as I do" sponsorship of Jackie, while Victoria is interested in making her own time with Jackie rather than Ralph. It's a world in which nobody's right.

Or is it? The unseen neighbor Jackie believes to be the "mother... in the hat" is innocent of Jackie's charges, whatever else he may be like, and cousin Julio (a magnificently show-stealing Irving Gonzales) is just possibly the nicest guy in town, willing to put up with Jackie's crap entirely out of his childhood thanks for a kindness of sorts from Jackie. Julio is the cousin all of us want, no matter how eccentric; he's the true friend who'll help you bury the body. He may be crazy but he really is there for you, even when you don't deserve it.

This is a lovely production of a profanity-laden but truth-telling show. While it's not suitable for children, your grandparents might love it if they can handle the language, because they've been around the block a few times and may just know the world a little better than you do. They'll know who the biggest "mother" of them all is, long before you catch on.

Ostensibly a drama, this is nonetheless one of the funniest shows you'll see. It's incandescent in its spotlight on hypocrisy and judging on moral relativity, without preaching. Worth seeing. Running through the 15th.

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From This Author Marakay Rogers

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