NB. This review contains strong language and adult themes within the context of the subject matter of this play.
The immediate problem I face with this review is how to name it.
Its correct title is The Motherfucker with the Hat, but in polite circles it is either called, “The MotherFxxxxr with the Hat or The Mother with the Hat. Being fairly polite myself, I shall refer to it as the MotherF with the Hat.
This play markes the first collaboration between Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre. Having seen Tron Theatre productions previously in Scotland and in London, I was aware that I was in for a challenging hard-hitting show, that is not so much “In Yer Face” theatre as slapping you around the face drama.
The MotherF with the Hat is a Tony Award nominated play by esteemed New Yorker Stephen Adly Guirgis. This playwright is often mentioned in the company of such American icons as David Mamet and Tracy Letts, so you know he is right up there with the American cream. That’s cream not Dream as there is little to associate the content of this play ith that national American ethos.
Written in 2011, the play premiered at Broadway’s Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre on April 11th of that year to mixed reviews. Much of the adverse criticism was aimed at the portrayal of Ralph D by Chris Rock as many critics were a little underwhelmed with his performance.
The play was a bit of a financial flop, largely due to the problem I highlighted at the start of this review. In the more Puritanical American world, it as difficult to market because you couldn’t even call the play by its name. A dig at American Puritanism is referenced in the script when a potential bout of bed-hopping leads to an exclamation from Jackie, putting a halt to Victoria, his sponsor’s wife’s advances, “I mean what are we – Europeans or some shit?” Made me feel quite proud (to be European).
MotherF with the Hat made its British premier at the Lyttleton Theatre on 10th June 2015, to almost universal praise. This Tron/Sherman production marks its Scottish and Welsh debut.
The play is a five-hander and begins with Veronica tidying up her bed in preparation for a visit from boyfriend Jackie, who has just been released from prison and who is trying to start living a decent life, beginning with finding a job. Veronica is a cocaine-sniffing attractive girl nicely played by Welsh actress Alexandria Riley, who recently appeared in the acclaimed Sherman production of “The Cherry Orchard”. Her single room located in a residential hotel in Times Square is a bit of a mess. Empty bottles and full ashtrays and clothes scattered untidily on the floor.
When Jackie enters and they start conversing, it is obvious by the tone of the conversation that they are going to get down to a bit of rumpy-pumpy. Whilst Veronica prepares herself by taking a shower, (offstage), Jackie strips down to his briefs, ready for action and gets into bed. He then espies a man’s hat lying on the coffee table. Suspicions arise and Jackie wants to know who the motherfucker with the hat is. He sniffs the bed imitating an anteater hoovering up its prey trying to identify whether any sexual activity had recently occurred which he wouldn’t have been a part of.
Jackie played by Francois Pandolfo is probably the central character in the play and he does well playing the paranoid Puerto Rican New Yorker.
Other characters are Jermaine Dominique as Ralph D., Jackie’s sponsor. I found his Machiavellian excuses for behaving badly very funny. His wife, Victoria, played by American actress Renee Williams has just had enough of her husband’s antics. The final character Cousin Julio, (Kyle Lima), is a macho individual, being a kind of mix of a masseur and notary public. He also has connections to the Mob.
The acting is fine throughout with just a couple of lapses with the New York accent. For me however, the star quality of this production is Kenny Miller’s set design.
On three split levels, each representing a character’s abode, at the bottom you find Veronica’s hotel room in Times Square – probably a run-down establishment. The middle level represents Ralph D’s and Victoria’s Hell’s Kitchen place. An area of NYC largely associated ith actors and a has a prominent gay quarter. At the top, you have Cousin Julio’s minimalist Feng Shui abode in gentrified Washington Heights. This arrangement is no accident as it depicts an ascending order of prosperity.
The play depicts betrayal, guilt, infidelity and addiction but has an abundance of dark humour within it.
With so much going for it, why did I find myself constantly checking my watch for the final twenty minutes, with the production only lasting ninety minutes? Maybe it is because I found it rather one-paced – there isn’t much variety in it. The naturalistic dialogue is sparkling and has a cadence to it that almost makes it sound lyrical at times, but it overwhelmed me in its intensity.
Having taught for many years in China, I became aware that Chinese audiences always judge the merit of a movie based upon its resolution, and being Chinese, it should have a moralistic quality to it. I found the play rather slight, and I liken the spectacle to travelling up to London for a day’s sightseeing and spending all your time travelling around the circle line.
Can I recommend this play? Well, I guess it comes down to home being where you hang your hat, (sorry about that). If you are at home watching an amusing, profanity driven play which offers little hope but doesn’t make you think too hard, then you should love this play.
Due to profanity throughout, adult themes and brief male nudity, I suggest that this play is meant for adults only.
The show runs at the Sherman Cardiff, having already completed its Glasgow run, until 31st March 2018.
Tickets are available from Sherman Theatre