Reviews West End & Central Published 21 June 2015

The Motherfucker with the Hat

National Theatre ⋄ 10th June - 20th August 2015

Men and the city.

David Ralf

The Motherfucker with the Hat is a tale about four failures and a weird cousin. Jackie and Veronica are high-school sweethearts, but not the Nordic all-star ‘Most Likely To Succeed’ kind. Poor Puerto Rican addicts, they cling to each other on Jackie’s return from prison, and rejoice in his landing of a custodial job. But things are desperately shaky: Veronica is still using, while Jackie is in a twelve-step programme for his drinking. Jackie sees an unfamiliar hat in their apartment, and is certain that Veronica has been cheating with the ‘motherfucker’ who lives downstairs. The one with the hat. Jackie’s sponsor, Ralph, whose main interests are The Big Book and nutritional beverages, tries to calm him down, but doesn’t allay his fears. He is pretty sure Veronica has been cheating. She’s an addict after all, and she’s nothing but bad news for Jackie’s sobriety.

On the Finborough Theatre’s website there is a page which outlines the theatre’s literary policy, and has a short list which says WHAT WE ARE LOOKING FOR, followed by a longer and more in-depth list which says WHAT WE ARE NOT LOOKING FOR. The one I always remember is “We do not programme plays about urban, middle-class ‘twenty/thirtysomethings’ preoccupied with relationships or emotional problems.” Stephen Adly Guirgis, the playwright who put faith on trial in The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, turns to a different set of codes in his modern New York story: the codes of friendship, of monogamy, of ‘higher powers’, but as the action lingers in the nicely-appointed apartment of Ralph and his wife Victoria, the play feels more middle-class than its protagonist Jackie, and genuine frustrations with addiction give way to a more familiar tale of two unhappy middleaged men. Guirgis’ writing is rich, and especially his funny monologues reveal wonderfully conceived characters, but only Ralph has depth in the drama, as his guru-like calm is revealed to be a front for self-interest and loneliness.

Indhu Rubasingham’s production of this 2011 Broadway play is fantastic, and her work with a talented cast engages us with the lives of these sad individuals even as the writing flattens them. Alec Newman’s Ralph (a role originated by Chris Rock in his Broadway debut) is a brilliant creation, a comic staple that wriggles free of stereotype and turns almost Machiavel. Yul Vázquez reprises his Broadway role as Cousin Julio, a funny and compelling parody of machismo, and Richardo Chavira’s Jackie is desperate, short-fused and physically intimidating on the Lyttleton stage. Kev McCurdy’s fight choereography is one of the best I’ve seen, with contact punches and spectacle even as the manliness behind it is shown to be lame and half-hearted.

That limp masculinity is the focus of a play that concentrates tightly on its male characters. Flor De Liz Perez and Nathalie Amin both do strong work as Veronica and Victoria, but the play doesn’t give them nearly enough to do. This is a story about Jackie and Ralph, and even Cousin Julio gets more agency than the girls.

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David Ralf

David Ralf is a writer and critic in London. He won the Sunday Times Harold Hobson Award for reviewing at the ISDF in 2012, and the Kenneth Tynan Prize for his reviews for the Oxford Theatre Review in 2011. He draws pens and doodles at Pens by Pens.

The Motherfucker with the Hat Show Info


Directed by Indhu Rubasingham

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Cast includes Ricardo Chavira, Flor De Liz Perez, Alec Newman, Nathalie Amin, Yul Vázquez

Link http://nationaltheatre.org.uk/

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