FFWD REW

Not a motherfucker to be trifled with

ATP’s season opener has plenty of heart profanity

By all means come for the controversy. Considering ATP’s poster for The Motherfucker with the Hat mostly consists of the play’s title written over and over it’s fair to say they know that a well-deployed four-letter word (or 12-letter as it were) attracts attention. It’s as good a hook as any but once the lights go down it doesn’t take long to realize there’s more going on here than just a catchy title.

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and delivered with conviction by a talented ensemble The Motherfucker with the Hat is vulgar crass poetic and sweet — not to mention laugh-out-loud funny.

Guirgis’ script doesn’t bother easing the audience into the language. It dives right in opening on Veronica (Carmen Aguirre) cleaning her room snorting coke and talking on the phone to her mom who is dating an “angry bald deadbeat alcoholic crook who looks like a fuckin’ fish.” Then Jackie (Haysam Kadri) comes in showering his “Beautiful Boriqua Taino Mamacita Love Me Long Time Princess fuckin’ Beauty Queen” with gifts to celebrate becoming “the newest member of this city’s fine-ass working class workforce.” They’re in love. They’re genuinely happy. Jackie’s even thinking about making “grown up plans like ‘you and me’ plans happy plans.” Until he notices a man’s hat on the coffee table and that the bed smells like “Aqua Velva and dick.” Then they aren’t as happy. And things get worse from there.

Right from the start all you want to do is repeat each line as it’s delivered. There’s an irresistible rhythm to the dialogue full of repetition earwormy slang and internal rhymes. But whenever it strays into show-off territory — which does happen — the cast is there to make sure the substance comes through. A Shakespeare comparison’s a stretch but Kadri’s six seasons with the Stratford Festival of Canada probably don’t hurt in finding the real emotion behind the stylized speech.

And the emotions are real. The Motherfucker with the Hat is a comedy but it’s one that seriously wrestles with addiction and betrayal along with humanity’s general tendency towards asshole-ishness. Even the comic relief — the scene-stealing Francisco Trujillo as Jackie’s flamboyant cousin Julio — is responsible for some of the play’s hardest-hitting moments. That he sells them while serving mimosas and threatening to go “Van Damme” on the hatted motherfucker is a testament to a performance that always manages to stay on just the right side of stereotype.

It’s kind of a funny thing — even with the swearing and the drugs and the nudity the most shocking thing about The Motherfucker with the Hat has nothing to do with edginess. It’s in the way the play acknowledges that all its characters are at least a little messed up; that none of them are exactly who they want to be or even who they think they are. The profanity may be what catches the audience’s attention but beyond that this motherfucker’s got heart.

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