Shows Worth Seeing:
The Motherf**ker with the Hat
By Stephen Adly Guirgis
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 W. 45th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200
Since he blasted onto the New York scene a decade ago with the
hard-charging Jesus Hopped the “A” Train
and Our Lady of 121st St., Stephen Adly Guirgis has been
rightly praised for bringing a whole new class of lowlife New
York characters onto the serious American stage. He writes primarily
about people remembered from his Harlem childhood and makes us
feel as though we’ve never met their like before because
of his splendid ear for the nuances of their profane, taunting
and cajoling patois, as well as his keen yet loving eye for their
self-destructive psychodramas of bravado, deception and self-deception.
Lately Mammon has been knocking on Guirgis’s door, however.
He’s been writing for TV, and his latest play (and Broadway
debut)—The Motherf**ker with the Hat—feels
an awful lot like TV. It’s a more or less straight-up romantic
sitcom starring the TV comic Chris Rock, who is competent, but
hardly stellar, in the title role. This play is nevertheless worth
seeing for the flashes of serious ambition that artfully mar its
pleasing commercial surface. The fact is, the central couple—Jackie
and Veronica, played with searing intensity by Bobby Cannavale
and Elizabeth Rodriguez—don’t really fit the sitcom
frame. They’re too damaged, too desperate, too heartbreakingly
tragic to leave anyone happy about their grim fate, even if we
do sometimes laugh at their miscalculations and emotional pratfalls.
They’re like a couple lifted out of Edward Bond’s
horrific masterpiece Saved, transplanted to New York
and forced to act out their fate with punchy lines from Sanford
and Son. It’s a very strange theatrical stew, with
a fascinatingly disturbing aftertaste.