“The Motherfucker with the Hat” at Dobama a Grippingly Realistic Drama With Humor
By Marjorie Preston
Dobama Theatre’s current production, “The Motherfucker with the Hat” by Stephen Adly Guirgis, is a well-written, well-acted, contemporary urban drama with humor.
Stern, tough Jackie (Jeremy Kendall) has recently lost his mother and completed a prison sentence. But things are looking up for him as he has begun to date his fiery, passionate Puerto Rican-born girlfriend Veronica (Anjanette Hall) again, though she, like seemingly everyone in the play, is an addict. The two of them have been in love since they were just teenagers growing up in New York City, where the play is set. He has gotten sober through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and just got hired as a superintendent. But when he discovers another man’s hat in her apartment (“the bed smells like Aquavelva and dick”), he begins to unravel.
Jackie’s AA sponsor, Ralph (Charles Kartali) allows Jackie to move in with him and his frustrated wife, Victoria (Bernadette Clemens), ostensibly to prevent Jackie from getting a gun and doing something regrettable. Victoria informs Jackie that Ralph is actually a weaselly philanderer and that he doesn’t know Ralph as well as he thinks. Jackie learns that Ralph and Victoria’s marriage is not a fulfilling one for either of the partners. But then the characters in “The Motherfucker with the Hat” are all flawed in some way.
Despite Ralph’s preaching to Jackie about acceptance and change, Jackie still purchases a gun and pursues the man he thinks slept with his girlfriend. Jackie confronts the man, but afterward, gets nervous and the two of them go to Jackie’s cousin Julio’s house to hide the gun. Jackie’s Cousin Julio (Jimmie Woody) is Mercutio to Jackie’s Romeo, a super-thoughtful, though over-the-top affected gay man who is fiercely loyal to Jackie out of loyalty to Jackie’s late mother.
Kendall is wonderful as the ex-con who seems the most naïve and honorable of the bunch of characters. He is blunt and still poetic in his own way. Kartali and Kendall both have great moments where the lines are delivered so quickly – in typical NYC fashion refreshing to those who love the city – that it heightens the honesty and humor. These two characters seem the most fleshed out in the piece, as we follow their quest for happiness.
Director Dianne Boduszek has helped the actors to give emphasis to colorful expressions, hurried the dialogue to the appropriately realistic whiz-bang NYC speed, and kept us intrigued by the flawed characters. The direction was letter perfect, including a well-choreographed fight scene done by Fight Choreographer Larry Nehring.
Scenic Designer Connie Hecker has done a lot with the space, creating a fussy sitting room for Julio, a slob’s dark studio apartment in purple and brown for Veronica and a contemporary den for Ralph. The result is a great reflection of their personalities. The playwright leaves us wondering what Jackie’s place looks like, as we never see it. “The Motherfucker with the Hat” is a very good show which is, at its core, about things that aren’t what they seem, and deciding which of our faults we’re willing to live with.
“The Motherfucker with the Hat” plays at Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road in the West Wing of the Cleveland Heights Main Library, Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. through October 7. Tickets are available at www.dobama.org or by calling (216) 932-3396. The play contains adult situations, language, use of weapons and violence.