By Joe Straw
The Motherf**cker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Tony Gatto is now playing at the Lyric Hyperion Theatre through January 28th, 2017 for a very limited run in Los Angeles.
Stephen Adly Guirgis has written a masterful play of characters in dramatic intercourse – without conjugation. Set in New York, Guirgis captures the essence of these New Yorkers and adds a comedic barrage of obscenities to the mix accentuating their lives according to their own moral codes. This makes for a fascinating theatrical outing where one asks the question: if I were in the same predicament, what values would I identify with?
Tony Gatto, the director, manages to articulate the heart, and create the physical life of Guirgis’ spoken words. And this speaks volumes of his meticulous craft giving the audience an amazing night of precision rarely seen in a 99-seat venue. Gatto guides the characters in a way that highlights each character’s unconquerable obstinacy.
Veronica (Fayna Sanchez) had three lines of coke next to her second line of offense – a bottle of gin or vodka – sitting on the small table in her dilapidated singles. An unmade mattress on the floor and a catchall love seat, all the unpleasant reflections of a life half lived.
Today, Veronica is speaking to her mother on the phone and going a mile a minute with a Puerto Rican/New York accent – a sensory flavor that can be unquenchable when absorbed in small quantities. When you think about it, it was probably the best time for Veronica to talk to her mother – high on coke – just to get all the words out in the least amount of time - about that man her mother is dating – asking her if she want to f*ck him or fry him.
Folding laundry, wearing only the necessities of clothing, black tights, grey sweat top, not really covering her black bra; she folds, only stopping to run back to take another snort from the neatly trenched lines on the mirror which was possibly lined with her maxed out credit card. Bending down to take a snort, the mirror sadly reflects her eyes half shut. Her single life, on her small table, and in her sparse apartment has got to get better.
Jackie (Jorge-Luis Pallo) appears out of nowhere, he doesn’t even knock, and one suspects a key was pulled from a lining of a forgotten pocket. But there he is, just watching, anticipating the realization of all the fantasies he had in jail.
Oh and just from catching her eyes, there is a relationship here, a strong one, of two lovers who have not seen each other in a very long time. Jackie brings her some flowers, a chocolate bar, movie tickets, and even pulls out a tiny fuzzy white bear for her secondary embraces.
“Got a job.” – Jackie
“You’re sober and got a job.” – Veronica
Veronica gets a little misty-eyed knowing her Mr. man lover is employed.
Jackie downplays his job as a porter in an apartment complex but he says there is a chance for advancement.
Any direction up is a cause for celebration.
They embrace; well technically, they are all over each other like brown on (brown) rice. Jackie wants to make it right now but Veronica says she’s a little gamey and wants to shower first. Veronica runs to the bathroom while Jackie starts to take off his clothes. And not short on words either Jackie shouts through the door, and the running water, so Veronica can hear him. He undresses to his underwear until he sees a pork pie hat – a hat that is not his.
Jackie runs to the bed and smells – “dick and aqua Velvet” – on the sheets and now his mind is racing furiously.
Veronica appears out of the bathroom in a laced bra and panties only to find the room temperature has changed. The mood is now icy cold as Jackie inarticulately accuses, but he is unable to get the words out completely before Veronica volubly lashes out at him for making false accusations. Jackie wants to know about the hat but the Puerto Rican rectification is flying fast and furious.
(Me thinks she protest too much.)
It’s tough battling against her barrage, but in his squinting dumbfounderment, Veronica cuts through the mishmash of confusion, sees his slightly charming taciturn self, is somewhat hopeful, and asks him to go have pie with her.
“You’re so wrong. Put the ghetto on hold. Let’s go to the pie place.” – Veronica
Jackie is not much for thinking but he realizes that he has stepped out of prison and into the discomforting heat of another stockade; clearly he is out of his verbal league with this chick.
After pie, which apparently didn’t go well, Jackie runs to his AA sponsor Ralph D (Nelson Delrosario), a yeasayer, and a yoga man with a comforting health drink in his hands. Ralph D offers Jackie a nutritional drink and shouts to his wife, Victoria (Libby Ewing) in another room to make another one. But Victoria only shouts obscenities, a negative affirmation, something that happens a lot these days.
“She lied to me in the pie place.” – Jackie
“Calm down. Pray with me.” – Ralph D
And so they pray, a little, Ralph D says Veronica is an addict and maybe someone he should avoid.
From first judgment, one suspect that Ralph has got his life together – well, it’s his life, his togetherness – all except for the happy wife part.
Jackie tells Ralph D that he’s got a gun and he wants to get even with the motherf**ker with the hat. Ralph D convinces Jackie to give up the gun and Ralph D commits to stay with him until the task is done.
So, they visit Jackie’s cousin, Julio (Eddie Martinez), a funny top-heavy ambiguously gay man married to Marisol – a woman we never see. Cousin Julio has just rustled up his famous batch of empanadas and Beck’s beer for his new guest. Jackie gives the gun to Julio, who agrees to hide it, as a favor.
“Not doing this for you, doing this for your mother.” – Cousin Julio
Jackie says the gun belongs to Chuy Alvarado. Jackie says he strolled over to the motherf**ker with the hat’s apartment, threw the hat on the floor, and then shot the hat. Jackie says he sorry about how it ricocheted into the television, and then through another man’s apartment.
Jorge-Luis Pallo has given Jackie a strong voice possibly to emphasize a character that is not heard. Jackie manages to not understand the events of his life with his face constantly scrunched up in bewilderment. But, Jackie, despite going to jail for various offenses, has a newly acquired strong moral code, an unyielding rigidity of being honest and not cheating on his friend. Pallo does a tremendous job encapsulating that moral code; still there’s room for the other side of the coin when engaged with the other players who are not his girlfriend.
Fayna Sanchez is wonderful as Veronica as she gives the character a strong physical life. This is also true when she listens on stage, turning with her back to another character, deciding what she is going to do next, or how to get out of the predicament she is in. Veronica is unsure of her life, where to go, loving the one she is with, rather than the one she wants, if she wants anyone at all. This makes for emotional and conflicted woman when push comes to shove, and there’s a lot of shoving. Also, another thing, I loved the accent!
Nelson Delrosario is funny as Ralph D, a narcissist who believes the world and its inhabitants are there for his pleasure. He thinks nothing of hurting anyone as long as his pain is minimal. Friend, lovers, it is all a physical game to him for as long at that will last.
Libby Ewing is a very enticing Victoria. Her performance is superb and her fluidity on stage displays a very strong craft. At this point, Victoria’s love life is non-existent non-evident with her unreadable stare in her opening moment. Whether that is an intentional choice remains to be seen. Still, there is another choice to create a stronger relationship when she first meets Jackie, who is, after all, a single man, and possibly a future lover. Ewing is a fascinating actor who takes risks with the character in a terrific non-stop performance.
Eddie Martinez is marvelous as Cousin Julio. Martinez employs a strong craft and brings an amazing backstory to his character, Cousin Julio. His story builds in humorous fashion taking us from his childhood to the present day. Cousin Julio is a man with strong emotional bonds and familia ties. It is a role Martinez nails exquisitely. Also, Martinez has a very strong presence on stage. He is an actor for which you want to hear every word.
Okay, I have a couple of notes. Don’t read any further if you can get tickets for this show.
There are times where dialogue gets in the way of intentions, which momentarily stops the action. Those times are rare. But, two scenes come to mind. The first is when Jackie smells another man in his girlfriend’s apartment and when he seeks help he doesn’t notice the same smell in Ralph D’s apartment? Also, when Ralph D sees the gun, it’s unclear why he doesn’t react considering he might be the next victim. The subtext is critical when a scene is moving along.
This show is presented in the round or rectangle. Seating is on all four sides. Some things may have been missed when an actor has his head turned facing the opposite direction. But, the actor’s voices were strong and hardly anything was lost.
Other members of the crew were as follows:
Veronica Roy – Stage Manager
Kimber Pritts – Assistant Stage Manager
Stephanie Rios – Assistant Stage Manager
Run! Run! Run! And take meat eater, someone who likes it juicy and raw!