The Motherfucker With The Hat
Presented by Black Swan Theatre Company
Directed by Adam Mitchell
It should have just been called The Hat.
If so, the seat next to me at the play’s premiere at the State Theatre last week would have been occupied.
“My wife isn’t here because she hated the name of the play,” explained the solo man beside me.
Nobody will ever know how many people won’t attend this play for the same reason.
Yes the title, The Motherfucker with the Hat is a turn-off to some, including me, but I’m glad I went along.
It turned out to be funny, entertaining, and clever, with terrific performances by its five actors.
Set in New York’s Puerto Rican community, it’s a troubled love story between Jackie (Austin Castiglione), a likeable crim struggling to get his life back on track, and sassy Veronica (Rhoda Lopez), his cocaine-addicted girlfriend. Jackie suspects she’s been cheating, after finding a man’s hat in her bedroom, and confides in his manipulative, cocky parole counselor, Ralph. This smooth-talking know-it-all, (played convincingly by Kenneth Ransome) turns out to be as mixed up as everyone else.
Ralph’s wife, Veronica (Alison Van Reeken) has “had it up to here” with her husband’s sleazy hypocrisy. It’s left to Julio (Fayssal Bazzi) a new age softie with a spooky dark side, to try to help knock some sense into them all. It’s all a reminder that being in “recovery” doesn’t mean your life is suddenly in order.
Though the play had plenty of swearing (and a quick glimpse of a penis too) in the context of the way the characters engaged with each other, it didn’t seem unrealistic or gratuitous.
US playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis said in writing the play, first performed in 2011, he just had to call on his own experiences – he’d known or been every single character.
His decision to call it The Motherfucker With The Hat has undoubtably cost him big time.
In the US, though critics liked the play – nominated for six Tony Awards – starring comedian Chris Rock as Ralph in its first run, Jimmy Smits as Ralph in its second, the public stayed away in droves.
The New York Post said its title had been “debilitating… They simply can’t get the name of the play out there, because Chris can talk about it, but he can’t say the title, so nobody knows what it is.” And The Wall Street Journal said: “Don’t let the stupid title put you off. If you do, you’ll miss one of the best new plays to come to Broadway in ages.”
To this day, the title of the play is often written with a few asterisks – though not in The Starfish!
In a sign that Perth is finally coming of age, the actors are all from a range of ethnic backgrounds. Rhoda is Filipino, Austin has an Italian background, Fazil is from Lebanon and Syria.
For those who don’t mind a little swearing or nudity, go along and see it: you’ll probably enjoy it.
The play, at the State Theatre Centre, Perth runs until Feb 3.