Play’s title sets the tone

Underneath the f-bombs is a gritty funny love story

The Stephen Adly Guirgis play that opens Alberta Theatre Projects’s new season has been called “every publicist’s nightmare.” With a title like The Motherf**ker With the Hat one can understand why.

“Guirgis calls the title his disclaimer…. He wanted to make it clear that this was a play in which people would swear. He wanted to set the tone in the title” director Ron Jenkins says of the Tony Award-nominated play that appeared on Broadway in 2011.

Company of Rogues Theatre presented two of Guirgis’s other works — Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train and Den of Thieves — a few years ago so Guirgis’s name is not entirely new to the Calgary theatre scene. Likewise Jenkins directed Theatre Calgary’s Next to Normal last season and ATP’s Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story previous to that.

“Guirgis is a great writer… He’s got a great ear for dialogue. That’s the way these guys talk” Jenkins adds explaining why the language is integral to the production.

One can’t help but wonder if Guirgis’s experiences as a violence prevention specialist and HIV educator a gig that took him into New York area prisons helped fine tune his playwright’s ear. But Jenkins emphasizes The Motherf**ker With the Hat “is about more than its title” and its f-bombs.

“At its very core it’s a love story” Jenkins says.

This love story is about flawed people who are in various states of addictions recovery. The central character is Jackie (Haysam Kadri) a former drug dealer newly released from prison. When Jackie discovers a man’s fedora in his girlfriend Veronica’s (Carmen Aguirre) apartment he accuses her of cheating and sets out to discover the hat’s owner.

“The show really is about a motherfucker with a hat. It sends the whole thing spiraling into the mystery of who this guy is” Jenkins says.

Other characters include Jackie’s drug and parole counsellor Ralph D. (Beau Dixon); Ralph’s wife Victoria (Melanee Murray); and Cousin Julio (Francisco Trujillo).

Guirgis wrote the characters of Jackie Veronica and Julio as Puerto Ricans while the ethnicities of Victoria and Ralph are left to a director’s discretion. (Dixon and Murray who play Ralph and Victoria in ATP’s staging are both black.)

“Guirgis is a New Yorker. He writes about the great melting pot that is NYC” Jenkins explains of the play’s ethnic mix.

While Jenkins admits the drugs and the language could be alienating for some audience members he says Guirgis manages to bridge that potential gap with his masterful storytelling.

“The characters in his play are us…. There are people out there who are just trying to find their way in the world and know what it’s like being stuck in cycles they can’t get out of” Jenkins says.

Despite its serious undertones The Motherf**ker With the Hat is a comedy.

Jenkins says the comedy comes not only from the play’s premise but also from the way in which the characters interact with one another.

“Jackie goes to any length to find the man with the hat and there are ridiculous consequences when he locates him” Jenkins explains adding that the comedy does not come from playing on stereotypes. “They are real people not caricatures.”

The dialogue is crisp and cuts to the chase — in other words no need to worry about trying to stay awake during lengthy expositions because there aren’t any.

“The gun is already loaded and we just go” Jenkins says with a laugh.

“It’s a bold play and a great comedy and I mean comedy in the greatest sense of the world. You come to the theatre to be entertained and that’s exactly what this play does.”