"Grow the f*** up!" yells Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Ralph D. (Larry Bates) to his hot-headed "sponsee" Jackie (Tony Sancho). Well, sure... that's certainly easier screamed than done.
In Stephen Adly Guirgis' wickedly funny, intensely riveting 2011 dark urban comedy THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT -- now enjoying a superb new production at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa through January 27 -- this very idea is explored mostly through the (cuss) words and actions of recovering addict Jackie, a volatile yet vulnerable NewYorican ex-con in desperate need to change himself and his wretched lot in life. Unfortunately, though, his optimistic trajectory is pretty much hindered by inescapable behavioral and environmental circumstances.
When the audience first meets Jackie, things seem to be looking up. Out on parole following a two-year stint in jail, Jackie, ecstatic and hopeful, is damn determined to stay clean and sober, especially for his Latin spit-fire of a longtime girlfriend Veronica (the terrific Elisa Bocanegra) -- even though she herself, shockingly, is still an active drug user. His fresh albeit naive outlook on life, nonetheless, necessitates not only securing a legit new job (one he procured even while being honest about his criminal past), but also regularly attending AA meetings with his sober sponsor-slash-life guru Ralph D.
The most troubling of these obstacles? Well, things come tumbling down after Jackie discovers an unfamiliar hat sitting atop his girlfriend's coffee table. Knowing that the hat in no way belongs to him, a fuming Jackie zooms to the conclusion that his supposedly faithful girlfriend has been cheating on him behind his back -- with, of course, the hat's mysterious owner (a correct assessment that is positively confirmed later, to no one's shock).But while Jackie is certainly armed with the best of intentions, his rocky relationships and his own nagging demons -- not to mention his irrational tendency to lose his temper and blow up -- are making his path towards fulfilling his "grown up plans" a rather bumpy one.
Thus begins Jackie's obsessive quest to find -- then severely harm -- the ghost he thinks is further damaging his already rocky relationships with both Veronica and sobriety.
With his rickety life already coming apart at the seams, Jackie is forced out of Veronica's place and temporarily squats on Ralph D.'s couch inside the apartment he shares with his bitter, long-agonizing wife Victoria (Cristina Frias), herself a bundle of disappointment. And along with his sponsor, Jackie also receives counsel from his outspoken cousin Julio (the scene-stealing Christian Barillas), a foodie and fitness fanatic, whose judgmental yet unwavering affection for Jackie stems out of a loyalty for Jackie's dead mother.
A lively, expletive-heavy hybrid of street-smart comedy and melodramatic soap opera, THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT is a gritty yet cleverly refined play that is as hysterically jolting as it is emotionally searing. The plot may be simple and straightforward, but it is completely rife for high drama and well-earned laughs. And, frankly, despite all that foul language (or, perhaps, because of it), it is one of the smartest, wittiest, funniest scripts I have ever seen come to life in an Orange County stage.
All that cussing in this play, by the way, doesn't at all feel gratuitously done for cussing's sake. Curse words, after all, are simply just the oft used, go-to phrases many of us -- from all social, educational, and economic backgrounds -- use as a way of colorfully amplifying and communicating our passionate feelings about something. In the case of MOTHERF**KER's resident ne'er-do-wells, their explicit language only further punctuates their fiery emotions. But what's pleasantly surprising? That Guirgis has a seemingly effortless, masterful knack for wedging-in shockingly eloquent bon mots of pathos, insight, and self-examination in between all that #@!*%&*$@.
Thoughtfully directed by Michael John Garcés, SCR presents this dark comedy as a conveyor belt (or, more accurately, a turntable) of one-upping vignettes, populated by Guirgis' fully-developed characters that all seem so vividly real (Nephelie Andonyadis' highly detailed apartment sets -- each taking a turn to face the audience -- also add to the realism). Despite their ghetto-heightened histrionics and exhaustive, bleep-worthy diatribes, each character possesses an authenticity that's far from just broadly-painted stereotypes. And, funny enough, somehow even as they cuss with abandon, their words are articulated in a rhythmic flow much like edgy poetry slams.