Theatre review: The Motherf***er With the Hat is a wickedly comic, foul-mouthed romp that packs a sentimental punch

 
Steve Dinneen
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Ricardo Chavira and Flor De Liz Perez star in The Motherf***er With the Hat
Lyttelton Theatre | ★★★★★
The Motherf***er With the Hat is where you might end up if you commissioned Quentin Tarantino to write an episode of Eastenders.
The plot makes the play sound like a far grimmer affair than it really is. Recovering alcoholic Jackie has just been released from prison for drug dealing. He’s sobered up and is ready to turn his life around, and that life involves settling down with his fiery girlfriend Veronica. She’s not quite as dry as her beau – we meet her during a phone conversation with her mother, which she takes the edge off with a few lines of cocaine. All seems to be going well until Jackie notices a hat – a man’s hat – in Veronica’s apartment. Just who is the motherf***er with the hat?
The action bounces from Jackie and Veronica’s explosive, lovelorn interactions in her crummy apartment to more contemplative conversations between Jackie and his sponsor Ralph, a wise but rather obnoxious former addict who now subsists on a diet of herbal smoothies and yoga.
Ricardo Chavira is brilliant as Jackie, a hulking, lost puppy of a man struggling to keep the devil in the bottle, while Flor De Liz Perez is eminently watchable as Veronica, who masks her soft heart with a hilariously thorny exterior (she’d rather kick a three legged kitten down the f***ing stairs than say “I love you”, for instance). Alec Newman manages to stop his sanctimonious Ralph from becoming a boorish cliché, but comic foil Yul Vazquez stands above them all as Julio, Jackie’s well-mannered, effete – but stacked – cousin, who may or may not know kung fu.
The staging is frequently breathtaking, even by the unusually high standards of the Lyttelton; red New York fire escapes spin overhead, the constituent parts of apartment buildings – walls, floors, lights – loom out of the darkness, crashing together into something recognisable. Coloured strip-lights surrounding the stage gives the impression the whole thing is being played out on a gigantic television.
The Motherf***er With the Hat is refreshingly tight, as you’d expect from a Pulitzer-winning playwright like Stephen Adly Guirgis. There’s no tub-thumping meta narrative: it’s a play about five people and the way they treat each other, about how our flaws and selfishness sabotage our happiness, and about searching for a way to get through the day without irretrievably messing up our lives. Director Indhu Rubasingham’s production is crisp, deliberate and frequently very loud. It’s a fast-paced, foul-mouthed drama with a wicked comic sensibility and enough soul to knock the wind out of you when it delivers its sentimental payload.

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