BWW Review: Destiny Theatre Experience's MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT Burns Bright
Despite its provocative title and abundant profanity (or maybe even because of it), Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Motherf**ker With the Hat is actually filled with a lot of humanity and heart, enough that you'll find it difficult to shake off the story and its characters long after the final scene has played out. And thanks to director Kurt Jarvis' production for Destiny Theatre Experience's tenth anniversary, the Nashville debut will likely be talked about and recounted for months to come - which seems the perfect testament to the impact of Shawn Whitsell's company on Music City's vibrant arts and theater company.
Since its founding a decade ago, Whitsell's Destiny Theatre Experience (named for his beloved daughter, whose young life has provided her father with a multitude of stories to tell - Shawn Whitsell, himself, has a heart as big as the sky and he consistently gives back to the world by telling stories that affect and mesmerize) has given voice to people often left out of the artistic conversation in Music City, allowing his audiences to experience unexpected and thought-provoking stories, many of which flow from his prolific imagination and from those lucky individuals with whom he surrounds himself.
Such is the case with Guirgis' dark, contemporary comedy: Whitsell starred in a production a few years back at Clarksville's Roxy Regional Theatre and his friendship with Jarvis proved the catalyst for the script to be chosen to kick off DTE's tenth anniversary celebration. A contemporary and movingly crafted comedy underscored by the realities of the hard-won life of recovering addict and ex-con Jackie and his intimate circle of friends, associates, acquaintances and family, The Motherf**ker With the Hat is guaranteed to make you think and to reflect on your own life's shortcomings and the power of love and passion to help you overcome even the biggest obstacles.
Guirgis, the insightful and gifted playwright who won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for drama for Between Riverside and Crazy, has enjoyed a career in the theater and screenwriting that is impressive in its range and the scope of his creative vision. The Motherf**ker With the Hat is so vividly written, the story so startlingly told, that you can't help but be confused and leave the theater certain that the characters are genuine - thanks to Jarvis' capable and gifted ensemble of actors - so it might be hard to separate fact from fiction in the haze of post-show introspection that most certainly accompanies the theatrical experience.
In Guirgis' eloquent script, laced liberally with enough profanity to sound as if it were drawn from my own colorful vocabulary, Jackie struggles to work the 12 steps of his recovery while remaining in a relationship with his girlfriend Veronica, a connection that dates back to when he was a clumsy and inept 11-year-old getting high for the first time with his fey cousin Julio and a rag-tag assortment of more experienced strangers. Jackie's only been out of prison for a few months and he conscientiously tries to remain on the straight and narrow (even if he's been screwing the woman who was his first AA sponsor) while staying true to his addictive/addicted woman.
As Jackie becomes consumed by jealousy when he discovers the eponymous hat of a stranger aka The Motherf**ker in the apartment he shares with Veronica, he loses his way but not his heart. In fact, Guirgis' script brilliantly delivers characters who are as flawed as any you could ever imagine, but each of them is tragically human, with hearts yearning to belong and to find themselves a part of something more important than themselves. Who knew that stripping away the artifice and bravado would reveal such human frailty and consummate warmth? That realization, perhaps coming upon you completely unawares, is what you'll take away from this sharply written play even as you continue to laugh at the characters' ineptitude at the basics of life.
Jarvis deftly directs his cast to maneuver around the complexities of their lives and situations with ample humor and a matter-of-face acceptance for their lots in life even while aspiring for something more.
Michael Carlo, in his stage debut, gives a staggeringly frank performance as Jackie, moving about the stage with a commanding presence that rivets your eyes to him, as he delivers an unfettered portrayal that is deeply felt and genuinely effective. His scenes with the other actors - but more importantly, Megan Blevins as his soulmate Veronica and Matt Smith as his self-serving sponsor Ralph D. - fairly crackle with intensity as he fights his own demons even as he does battle with the often-derided and aforementioned motherf**ker who has made the bed reek of "Aqua Velva and dick."
Blevins is nothing short of transcendent as Veronica, giving a performance that is refreshingly frank and down-to-earth, and delivering a cacophony of dialogue with the sheer force of the character's personality and the actress' impressive arsenal of theatrical weapons. Hers is a stunning performance that demands your rapt attention.
Smith, as the smarmy and often condescending, but somehow charming, Ralph D. (his wife, played convincingly by Amie Lara, describes being attracted him during their first meeting even though he was dressed in acid-washed jeans and white sneakers) shines in a role that allows him the opportunity to display the complete range of his abilities. Deceptive and disquieting, Smith's Ralph D. defines the term "snake in the grass" to perfection.
Lara, as Ralph's haughty yet sweet cuckolded wife, appears fresh off the set of some alternate universe's Real Wives of Motherf**kers reality show, yet somehow manages to show off a more sensitive side when called upon.
Tony Insignares, cast as Jackie's maybe gay/maybe not cousin Julio, gives an outlandishly funny performance, threatening to steal the show right out from under his coterie of capable co-stars, supplying plenty of laughs along the way and yielding some intriguing information that fills in some of the blanks of Jackie's life in the process.
On opening night, some scene transitions took too long, threatening to disrupt the flow of Guirgis' finely crafted dramatic comedy, but it's obvious that may be ascribed to some opening night jitters that will likely be exorcised in coming performances. Trey Wood's sound design, which includes a score of evocative tunes to set the scene (even the surprising inclusion of the heart-wrenching ballad "She Used To Be Mine" from the Waitress score) Mary Hankins' smartly designed set and lighting provides the requisite backdrop for the play's action, ensuring that the story is easy to follow so that audiences remain completely engaged throughout the play's two hours.
The show's running time is especially noteworthy because it underscores director Jarvis' ability to tell the story in such a way that it flows beautifully (even with the minor transitional hiccups mentioned), never relinquishing its hold on the audience. And on a steamy Nashville night, there's not much that's more impressive than that. These motherfuckers are on fire - and heating up the theater scene in Music City.
The Motherf**ker With the Hat. By Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Kurt Jarvis. Produced by Shawn Whitsell. Presented by Destiny Theatre Experience. At Darkhorse Theatre, Nashville. Through July 29. Stage managed by Memory Strong-Smith. Set and lighting design by Mary Hankins. Sound by Trey Wood. Fight choreography by Eric Pasto-Crosby. Queen of Everything Technical: Candace Lafayette. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).
About the show Kurt Jarvis directs Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Motherfucker With The Hat for a July 21-29 run at Nashville's Darkhorse Theater, marking the tenth anniversary summer production from Destiny Theatre Experience.
The Motherfucker With The Hat is a comedy about relationships, drug dependency and overcoming life's obstacles. Jackie, a petty drug dealer, is just out of prison and trying to stay clean. He's also still in love with his coke-addicted childhood sweetheart Veronica. Ralph D. is Jackie's too-smooth, slightly slippery AA sponsor. He is married to the bitter and disaffected Victoria. There's also Jackie's ride-or-die cousin Julio.
"I love this play," says producer Shawn Whitsell, the founder of Destiny Theatre Experience. "I acted in a production of it in Clarksville [at the Roxy Regional Theatre] about five years ago and knew it was something I wanted to bring to Nashville one day. When Kurt approached me about doing it, I didn't have to think twice."
Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. for performances on Friday and Saturday, July 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29. Showtime is at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, July 23, and again on Saturday, July 29.
The Motherfucker With The Hat will be presented at the Darkhorse Theater, 4610 Charlotte Avenue. Tickets may be purchased at the door for $10. For more information or to reserve tickets, contact Shawn Whitsell at email@example.com.