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Review of The Motherf**ker With The Hat at the Lyttelton Theatre

The Mother With The HatI can’t say very much about this play without making use of a certain word beginning with F. The National Theatre decided to replace the show’s full title with asterisks in certain places. Their front of house staff went even further with self-censorship, wanting to know if I was here to see what they called ‘Themotherwiththehat’ (said very rapidly, as though one word). Still, as I say, I won’t get very far without at some stage mentioning fear.

In an apartment in Times Square, New York City, Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez) is in the shower, after which she and her man Jackie (Ricardo Chavira) will make love. Fear sets in when Jackie notices someone’s hat on the table. It’s not his, but it’s definitely a man’s hat. Thus ‘the motherfucker with the hat’ is some guy, as yet unknown, who has been sleeping with his childhood sweetheart. Jackie and the hat are in some ways like Othello and the handkerchief, and eventually drives this ex-offender with a job and a roof over his head back into the prison system.

Ralph (Alec Newman) is married to Victoria (Nathalie Armin). They make their home in Hell’s Kitchen and behave very much like they are in the sort of marriage that won’t stay the course. For instance, Ralph asks for a drink, and Victoria’s response is that he can drop dead. Ralph is Jackie’s Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor – he wants to stay sober, and wants Ralph to stay sober; the fear here is quite obvious, one of regressing to a previous lifestyle of depression, violence and alcohol dependency. Ralph is your typical motivation man, complete with corny phrases such as, “No stinkin’ thinkin’! Be wise like Abe Lincoln!” and “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today”.

My favourite character in this production is Cousin Julio (Yul Vazquez), massager, notary public – and apparent martial artist. Vazquez plays the role with such flair and confidence. Julio, who makes his home in Washington Heights, has some great lines, raising by far the biggest laughs of the evening. He was in a ‘sex addiction fellowship’ at one point, musing, “It’s all behind me now. No pun intended”. Following an eventful night in which Jackie, under alcoholic influence, blurted out his entire sexual history to Veronica, Julio almost sighs, “I mean, your list of infidelities wasn’t long. But it was graphic!

The set design is flawless. Each scene change is a smooth retraction of one room and the equally smooth bringing forward of another. And there are fights, including one that involves an awful lot of punches and is ended only by the complete disintegration of a front room coffee table. Each has credibility and is acted out with precision and skill.

The play is laugh-out-loud funny, however, despite (or, perhaps because of) its darkness. The cast is very strong. I mean, very, very strong. So why four stars and not five? Two things. Firstly, not since Aspects of Love has almost everyone slept with almost everyone to the point where one’s empathy with the characters decreases as a result. Second, the F word, and this time I am referring to ‘fuck’, is used so often that by the end it has lost meaning and significance. Flipping this, frigging that, effing, fudging and fricking. It’s not offensive, it’s just laughable and distracting.

Still, the show is hysterical one minute and poignant the next. This is an energetic play with a small enough and talented cast to allow for full character development. Please don’t be put off by the title. Yeah, there’s drugs, booze, a gun and infidelity. But there is also plenty of humour – and sharp insight into the lives of those who struggle with addictions – and love.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The Motherf**ker With The Hat
Things are looking up for Jackie. He’s out of jail and staying clean thanks to his sponsor. He might even have found a job. And of course there’s Veronica, who he’s loved since 8th grade. Nothing could come between them – except a hat.

Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play received six Tony nominations on Broadway. Poetic, profane and hilarious, this whip-smart look at love and addiction finds light even in the darkest corners of New York City.

Listings:
Show Opened: 12th June 2015
Booking Until: 20th August 2015
Important Info:
Latecomers will have to wait in foyer until a suitable break in the performance.
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday 2.15pm

Friday 26th June 2015

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