BWW Review: Edgily Funny and Heartfelt MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT from WET
As you may know, Dear Readers, I recently criticized another currently running show for having shock for shock sake with not enough narrative. So when I see a title like "The Motherf**ker with the Hat", the current offering from Washington Ensemble Theatre, I get a little worried that I may be in for more of the same. And while the show may have more F bombs than you can shake a hat at and there is a very clear warning of language and nudity posted at the theater, the difference is this play just portrays an honest and real look at the lives of its characters and what results is a funny and heartfelt show where the "shock value" fades into the background in favor of a wonderfully developed and ever evolving story.
Stephen Adly Guirgis' play focuses on Jackie (Erwin Galán), a man recently out of jail and trying to turn his life around. He's worked hard to stay sober and go with "the program" and has just returned home to his not sober girlfriend Veronica (Anna Lamadrid) after landing a new job and is ready to celebrate. The problem is he notices a hat on the table. A man's hat. A hat that's not his. A hat that wasn't there when he left for his interview. What follows is a searing look at whether or not these childhood sweethearts' relationship can survive with their lives starting down two very different paths. And along for the journey are Jackie's nutritional juice selling sponsor Ralph D. (Ali Mohamed el-Gasseir), his recovering wife Victoria (Meg McLynn) and Jackie's effeminate cousin Julio (Moises Castro). Together they all examine questions like, "Can a sober man and an addict stay together?", "What is being faithful?" and of course "Just who is the motherf**ker with the hat?"
Director Valerie Curtis-Newton along with designer Pete Rush have brilliantly placed us almost in the homes with these people with a beautifully and innovatively transformable three-quarter thrust set. Curtis-Newton's pace of the show is stunning as the plot lines build and evolve quite gracefully ultimately reaching their boiling point and the honesty and truth of these characters is almost perfect. I say almost as at times the show felt like it was still settling in, like the actors didn't quite believe what they were saying yet. It was so close but not quite there but I'm sure will settle in with time.
The cast manages some wonderful and stirring moments. Galán leads the story terrifically and keeps the through line of Jackie alive throughout the show. And his arc in the show is truly a sight to behold. Lamadrid takes on his addicted girlfriend with glee and sinks her teeth into the role without ever going to a stereotype. El-Gasseir makes for a wonderful almost-douchey friend and keeps the audience with him even when we may not like him. McLynn takes what could be a throw away part and delivers some fantastic moments as a woman doing her best in a life she doesn't want. And Castro practically steals the show as the flouncing Julio determined to do right by a cousin he doesn't really like anymore. Sure the character Castro creates is funny but he never goes too far into the realm of caricature and his Act Two monologue is touching, riveting and completely superb.
So yes the language and subject matter of the show may be too much for some but for those inclined, this is one hell of a show which entertains and yet still keeps its honesty and heart intact. And so with my three letter rating system I give "The Motherf**ker with the Hat" a f**king YAY. An engaging production of a fabulous script.
"The Motherf**ker with the Hat" from Washington Ensemble Theatre performs at 12th Avenue Arts through February 1st. For tickets or information visit them online at www.washingtonensemble.org.