Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 23, 2011

The Motherf#@ker With the Hat

TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through December 4, 2011
by Jennifer Curran

It would seem that a play that cannot be named in polite company might be in need of a gimmick. Considering though that the playwright is Stephen Adly Guirgis, such nonsense is quickly put to bed. Within ten minutes it becomes abundantly clear that there really is no other title that would work. Add impeccable direction by Tazewell Thompson, a break-neck pace that never misses a beat and the result is a terrific show.

Donald Eastman's set design is a sparse outline with plenty of gray space for the actors to fill in the details. From Veronica's rumpled mattress on a bare floor, to Ralph and Victoria's Pier 1 Imports loveseat or Cousin Julio's lovingly attended to cart of lush green plants, the audience is roller-coasted from points A, B and C and back again.

At its very basics, “Hat” is a love story. Jackie (Ben Cole) and Veronica (Clea Alsip) have loved each other since the eighth grade, Ralph (Royce Johnson) and Victoria (Vanessa Wasche) are in a loveless marriage, Cousin Julio (Varin Ayala) may or not love his wife but his love of life and family keep Jackie in line.

The eviscerating verbal sparring lays bare the truth of each the characters: I do as I do and not as I say. There is much here about truth and honesty (one doesn't always have a lot to do with the other), addiction and recovery. There’s more in the script: being held accountable (or not) in a suffocating world where ignorance is far from bliss and language can't begin to communicate the complexities of these characters' struggle for love, understanding and a little bit of peace.

“Hat” isn't a play for everyone. It isn't a “nice” play. Indeed, it’s a blood and guts revelation of a man whose own limitations and ignorance keep him stuck in the same pattern, unable to break out of it and incapable of explaining why. For theatre fans who want to see something without a gift-wrapped ending or a moral tale, one could do no better than a trip to TheaterWorks.