When overexcited Jackie rushes into his girlfriend Veronica’s apartment with a bunch of flowers held high jabbering his undying love for her, THE MOTHERF**CKER WITH THE HAT, by Stephen Adly Guirgis, gets off to a cracking start. Thanks to the play’s smart sassy New York one-liners the audience in this intimate venue is immediately enthralled and energised, as breathless and fired up as the sultry, skimpily clad Veronica (Zoe Trilsbach).
Recently out of jail, Jackie is hyper because he’s just landed a job and fellow Puerto Rican Veronica jumps into the shower preparatory to giving him a romantic reward in the rumpled sofa bed. But then Jackie, played with alternating toughness and bewilderment by Troy Harrison, spots a hat on the breakfast table. After giving the sheets the sniff test, he comes to the conclusion that the hat’s presence is not good.
Jackie’s a substance abuser and throughout the play he battles his impetuosity and desire to stay clean, not helped by the fact that Veronica is still using. He’s encouraged to do the right thing by his sponsor Ralph D (John Atkinson), who’s married to the lonely and sexually frustrated Victoria (Megan O’Connell).
The play hinges on the moment when it’s revealed that there’s some sexual infidelity going on and although this drives the second half of the performance the play never seems to recover its former drive – due to the script itself rather than the direction by Adam Cook.
Thankfully, as the play progresses Jackie’s cousin Julio is given a bigger and bigger role and progressively steals the show as it gets bogged down in the Jackie-Ralph D rivalry (their conflicting world views struggle to gain the upper hand — literally so in the play’s final moments). Julio, played by Nigel Turner-Carroll, has most of the best lines – old-fashioned, ornate and often unintentionally (to Julio) funny – and is at times almost effeminate but then displays his inner steel and wisdom.
There’s no room for actors to hide in a venue as small as the Tap Gallery Theatre and the performances are strong throughout, though Jackie and Julio are the most noteworthy. Despite the play’s unbalanced structure, this is unmissable non-mainstream theatre (it was nominated for five Tony Awards in 2011).
The Workhorse Theatre production of THE MOTHERF**CKER WITH THE HAT plays at the Tap Gallery Theatre until May 5, 2013.
(c) Roger Balch