The play centers around the relationship between recovering alcoholic Jackie (Travis Reiff) and his long-time girlfriend Veronica (Amy Probst). When he finds a man's hat in her apartment that doesn't belong, his jealous explosion propels him to his sponsor Ralph D and his wife Victoria (Sean Rodriguez Sharpe and Vanessa Sawson), and his cousin Julio (Brian Marable). Jackie careens through speculation and booze and fights and empanadas and late-night screaming sessions on his quest for the truth or revenge or redemption... he's not always sure what it is he's looking for.
Travis Reiff is simply fantastic as Jackie, dragging us through his character's breakdown with sincerity and wit. He has a virtuosic mastery of the musicality of the language, and invests entirely in the heartbreak and confusion and certainty that surround Jackie. Sean Rodriquez Sharpe's Ralph D is smooth and sly as the silver-tongued sage - an excellent foil for Reiff's uncontainable Jackie. Amy Probst has some wonderful vulnerability to her Veronica - particularly in the final scene - but overall her energy never quite meets the level of the rest of the cast, which leads to a few anticlimactic moments. Vanessa Sawson has the unenviable task of playing a severely underwritten role, as Guirgis seemed to include Victoria more as a way to flesh out Ralph's character than as a fully formed character in her own right. But Sawson gathers together what she can out of this character, conjuring some strong moments out of the largely monolithic harridan the playwright gave her. Finally, Brian Marable's Cousin Julio emerges as the most resilient and grounded character of all, bringing a quiet strength and supreme focus to this otherwise overwrought world. His matter-of-fact delivery and level-headedness slice through the histrionics and provide much needed perspective, interest, and some delightfully understated laughs too.
Director Jamie Warrow has led this cast with great sensitivity and dexterity, finding and sustaining an excellent pace that keeps the audience as off-balance as Jackie - which is really cool, and really tough to maintain. The characters she and the actors built together are entirely recognizable without ever falling into stereotype or cliche. And her staging is varied and engaging - with a definite high point being Jackie's late-night return to Veronica's apartment. Alexander Carr's excellent set design makes full and creative use of the tiny little Ringwald space. Dan Morrison's lighting design is nothing special, but it supports the action of play effectively. Travis Reiff's other life as a sound designer works out well, with the music placing us effectively in the world of these characters. And I have to give a nod to fight choreographer Phil Harmer for some high-caliber on-stage violence.
As the title clearly tells you, The Motherfucker With the Hat is not for everyone - but I would argue that it's probably for more people than you might think. The language is littered with f-bombs, sure, but it feels organic to the characters, and honestly, I stopped noticing them. Because, as Warrow notes in her bio, this is ultimately a play about love and acceptance - and in this skilled and nuanced production, those universal messages come across loud and clear - and it's a great fuckin' ride.
The Motherfucker With the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis (Dirctor: Jamie Warrow) continues at The Ringwald Theatre through April 14. Tickets range from $10-$20. For more information, visit http://www.theringwald.com/