In support groups for substance abuse you hear “people, places and things” over and over. This means the addict needs to stay away from the people, places and things they formerly associated with their addiction if they are to be successful in their recovery. Bobby Cannavale, in an amazing performance, is Jackie, a recovering addict fresh on parole and living with his still-using girlfriend Veronica, played by Elizabeth Rodriguez. Obviously the above situation is not the best of ideas. Come to find out, all the characters in this play have a drifting sense of what “being clean” means.
This marks Ms. Rodriguez’s Broadway debut and she gives a raging performance as the coked-up, crack-pipe smoking, angry addict. She’s functional, but an addict none-the-less.
Jackie arrives home early one day to surprise his girlfriend with flowers, pockets full of gifts and the news of a new job. What he finds is a strange hat on his dining table. He makes a mad dash to the bed. And like an obsessed truffle pig, he sniffs the pillow and the bed, confronting Veronica with “the bed smells like Aqua Velva and dick.” And the downward spiral begins for Jackie.
Chris Rock is Jackie’s sponsor, Ralph D. He’s married to Victoria (Annabella Sciorra) a woman who obviously has had it with him. When he asks her to bring a drink for his sponsee, Jackie, she responds with “fuck you.” While Ralph D. seems to walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk, the lies eventually come out when we learn that he has slept with Jackie’s girlfriend.
Rock’s performance was good but in contrast with the talent he was facing on-stage, the difference was noticeable. At times it looked like his feet had been nailed to the floor and only his arms moved. His line delivery is done with a voice that is used to being miked. It is slightly muffled and run together; at times he’s hard to understand. Last evening I watched a Chris Rock special on the Comedy Channel and noticed that he is sometimes hard to understand WITH a mike. But I’ll give him this, he is a brilliant comedian.
In a stand-out performance is Yul Vázquez, as Jackie’s cousin, Julio. Jackie has gone to Julio to ask him to hide a gun for him. He took the gun in question to the apartment of “the motherfucker with the hat,” threw the hat on the floor and fired shots into it. He needs Julio to hide it for him because if he doesn’t, he will have a parole violation to concern himself with.
Julio may or may not be gay, we never really find out, though he is married. Julio doesn’t mince words. He lays it on the line; he doesn’t like Jackie very much. He is only going to do this for his dead sister, Jackie’s mom. But he makes it clear to Jackie, “the space between who you think you are and who you actually are is a pretty embarrassingly wide gap.”
I had one point of contention with Mr. Guirgis’s play, on more than one occasion, he has Jackie use words that just don’t seem like they would ever be a part of this man's vocabulary. He is not a stupid man, but I doubt highly he would use words like “brevity” and “haberdashery.”
The Motherf**ker with the Hat is directed by Steppenwolf ensemble member, Anna D. Shapiro, who won a Tony Award in 2008 for directing August: Osage County. Here again she has brilliantly directed a play where substance abuse is a central issue.
The set by Todd Rosenthal is ingenious. The scene shifts are, for the most part, completely automated with a turn-table turning and a couch flipping upside down to reveal another couch. It’s fascinating to watch and facilitates a smooth transition from scene to scene.
There are some amazing performances in this play. I bet we’ll see Bobby Cannavale on the aisle this June at the Tony Awards, and possibly even Yul Vázquez. More importantly, the play is worth it. Those who are intimately familiar with substance abuse will immediately identify with these characters. If you’re not, you will have a much better sense of the costs of substance abuse. You only have until June 26th to see this play.
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