Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Motherf**ker with the Hat @ Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre

F**k. F**ker. Motherf**ker. Cursing, curing, and more curing takes place on a regular basis at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre now that Motherf**ker with the Hat has moved in. Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, this play, however, moves way beyond the title and the cursing to tell a truly compelling story about what happens when all trust is lost in relationships. Complete with a stunning scenic design, brilliant direction, and some of the best acting to ever hit a Broadway stage, Motherf**ker with the Hat is a brilliant new piece of theatre that is sure to rank up there as one of the next great American plays.
Centering around a recently released prisoner and recovering alcoholic, this brave new piece tells the story of Jackie and his drug addicted and cheating wife, Veronica. The lives of these two “upstanding citizens” crosses paths with some other “high class” people including Ralph D., Jackie’s AA sponsor, and Victoria, Ralph’s less than loving wife. When things get rough and sorts of relationships are tested, Jackie has to turn to his cousin Julio for help. From here the lives of all five of these individuals cross paths, and, as the title might suggest, the results are explosive. With tons of fighting, slaps to the head, and a mystery hat, Motherf**ker with the Hat arrives on Broadway with a bang.
The five person cast delivers what is truly one of the best performances that the Great White Way has ever seen, which is with the exception of one. Starting with the positive, on-stage couple Bobby Cannavale (Broadway’s Mauritius and film’s The Other Guys) and Elizabeth Rodriguez (television’s Flash Forward and ER) shine as Jackie and Veronica. Cannavale commands the stage and takes control of every scene, driving the play forward. His ability to switch back and forth from heart wrenching dramatic acting to laugh out loud comedic acting is impeccable. He has the energy to him that causes the entire audience to constantly want to watch and route for his character. So full of life, Cannavale delivers a truly unforgettable performance. Right beside him with just as much power, if not more, is Rodriguez. She is in one word beautiful to watch on stage. Her presence fills the entire theatre – so much so that when she is not present on stage, the audience longs for her to join in the action again. Both Cannavale and Rodriguez deliver truly wonderful performances. Following them is Emmy Award nominee for The Sopranos, Annabella Sciorra who portrays Victoria. Sciorra delivers a stunning performance full of passion, lust, and love. Her work on stage with Cannavale is breathtaking – leaving some audience members close to tears after hearing all of her characters pain and struggle, and wants and desires. The scene stealer of the piece is none other than Yul Vaszquez (film’s The A-Team and Bad Boys II) as Cousin Julio. Acting in what is sure to be Tony nominated work for his Broadway debut, Vaszquez lays it all on the stage giving a funny and emotional performance. He captures the hearts of each audience member in the room as he delivers undying love and honor to a less than worthy family. The main problem of the piece comes with the star vehicle, stand up and movie star Chris Rock (film’s Grown Ups and Madagascar series) – making his Broadway debut. While Chris Rock might be considered one of the best comedic actors of all time, it does not shine through in this performance. His lack of stage experience is fully brought into the light as the rest of the cast shines as the best of the best. Often looking confused and lost, Rock unfortunately did not have a director on the sideline with a camera and the ability to yell, “Cut!” However, do not let these words discourage you from attending this piece, the acting style of one in no way brings down the piece as a whole. Motherf**ker with the Hat shines as one of the best new plays to hit Broadway this season.
While talented actors is a plus, in order to be a success, a play must come packaged with a stunning script; and, thanks to Stephen Adly Guirgis (playwright of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot), Motherf**ker with the Hat has just that. His use of language is crafted so carefully – not one sentence is there just for fluff; each line serves a beautifully thought out reason. Bring this text into the light is Tony Award winning director Anna Shapiro (August: Osage County). Making this play flow with ease and sophistication, Shapiro clearly understood the text and meaning of the piece that Guirgis intended. Accompanying the high level text and direction is out of this world designs in scenic, lighting, and music elements. Designed by Todd Rosenthal, the complex set moves with ease as it changes from apartment to apartment to apartment. Featuring rooms on a turn-table, flipping sofas and walls, and a minimalist outside environment, there is no doubt that Rosenthal is looking to earn Tony Award number two – having won for the August: Osage County design. Bringing this brilliant design into the light is the work of designer Donald Holder (current Broadway designs include Spiderman and Arcadia). With creative lighting techniques – like a choreographed light show to open the production – Holder delivers a wonderful accent to both the set and the original music composed by Terence Blanchard, a five time Grammy Award winner. His jazzy and upbeat score sets the downtown city scene perfectly. Together, these forces create a work of true theatre masterfulness.
Motherf**ker with the Hat is a bold and daring new play that examines the struggles of life, love, and friendship as the key element of trust is removed. As the tagline cleverly states, “2 Hearts. 12 Steps. 1 Hat.” What more could one ask for in a play? It even drops the f-bomb in the title! Motherf**ker with the Hat is a must see!

Review By: James Russo

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