Review: THE MOTHERF--KER WITH THE HAT blazes at Burbage Theater Co

Burbage's high-velocity production of the Stephen Adly Guirgis play runs through June 16th.

By: Jun. 05, 2024
Review: THE MOTHERF--KER WITH THE HAT blazes at Burbage Theater Co
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Toward the end of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s 2011 play The Motherf–ker with the Hat, as its two male protagonists shouted, punched, and spat their way toward catharsis, my companion leaned over and whispered what I didn’t realize I was feeling: “Masculinity is exhausting.”

In the world of Motherf–ker, it certainly is. Onstage at Burbage Theatre Co until June 16, this tale of self-loathing, betrayal, and ill-conceived revenge is a high-speed chase through an impulse-driven landscape of insecurity and addiction. Though Burbage’s smart production is intense and nuanced, its momentum is hindered by the play’s tired depictions of the trouble caused by troubled men.

Motherf–ker tells the story of Jackie (Victor Machado), a recovering addict attempting to right his ship for himself and his longtime love, Veronica (Catia): he’s on probation, in AA, and about to start a new job that offers them both a chance at stability. But he quickly veers off track when he notices a hat in Veronica’s bedroom — unexceptional in every way, except that it is not his hat, and if it is not his, whose could it be, and why would it be here? Like Othello with his handkerchief, Jackie launches down a dizzying downward spiral as he imagines the answers to these questions, making choices that range from erratic to frightening as he uncovers new layers of misunderstanding, self-loathing, and betrayal.

Burbage’s production is fast-paced and bold, buoyed by the cast’s complex performances. Machado shines as Jackie, bringing a heart-aching vulnerability to a character that could easily be swallowed in his own toxic impulsivity. Machado’s Jackie is someone an audience can root for, even as his bad decisions cascade. Anthony Goes — who played a captivating white-collar conman in Burbage’s 2022 production of Junk — again balances charm and chill-inducing cunning as Jackie’s AA sponsor, Ralph D. And Arturo Puentes is a breath of fresh air as Jackie’s well-adjusted Cousin Julio, offering good-natured comic relief in the play’s first half, and grounded sincerity in its second. 

The Motherf--ker with the Hat at Burbage Theatre Co
Anthony Goes, Victor Machado, and Arturo Puentes in Burbage Theater Co's The Motherf--ker with The Hat.
All photos by Andrew Iacovelli.

Motherf-ker’s female characters function primarily as catalysts for the sexual infidelities that fuel male posturing and violence. They make their own morally complicated decisions, but — unlike their male counterparts — their motivations are unexplored. Despite these limits of the material, Marleny Luna (Victoria) and Catia (Veronica) bring depth to their characters; in particular, Catia’s ability to wordlessly convey subtle emotional shifts does much to endear her Veronica to the audience. 

Director Jackie Davis — who regularly dazzles as a company member at Trinity Rep — deftly guides this ensemble of fast-talkers. Exchanges pop & move, and — assisted by Trevor Elliott’s streamlined set design — the players shift quickly between scenes, as vintage images of New York City subways & skylines flash on twin backdrops. It’s a tight 95 minutes, delivered with a tautness that complements the quickly escalating drama on-stage. 

While the production serves the material very well, it can't quite overcome the play's most salient issues. The script is laced with homophobic slurs that do little to develop the characters who utter them, features an extended dialog poking fun at the notion that women can sexually assault men (they can), and relies on the inherently misogynistic logic that the way to hurt a man is by taking his woman, a trope that works only if you believe that women can be owned by their sexual partners in the first place. 

But most troubling, its central drama — in which two men must “work out” their harmful behaviors through shouting, manipulation, and violence — feels, in 2024, like a tale we’ve seen many times: in movies, on television, and, for many of us, in our own lives. It’s hard to feel catharsis at characters’ potential redemptions when we know how much collateral damage lies in their wake.

Whether it feels like a joyride or a carjacking may depend on your response to tales about men who wave guns at their problems. But Burbage’s The Motherf–ker with the Hat is a car-chase of a production — it races and rages, bringing to life characters driven by impulse to commit betrayals against each other and themselves.  

The Motherf–ker with the Hat runs at Burbage through June 16th at 59 Blackstone Avenue, Pawtucket, RI. Tickets are $30 (general admission) and $15 (students); they are available online at www.burbagetheatre.org. For more information, call 401-484-0355 or email boxoffice@burbagetheatre.org.




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