Epic Theatre continues its season, themed “Conviction,” by tackling one of the ultimate tests of conviction. Stephen Alby Guirgis’s 2011 play, Motherfucker with the Hat, tackles a challenge of addiction that is less often discussed but perhaps the most difficult: preventing a relapse. After the intense season opener, We Are Proud to Present…, this is an appropriate follow-up — a dark, profanity-laden trip through a recovering addict’s life as it seems to fall into place and then proceeds to fall apart.
At the top of the play, our protagonist, Jackie (Rudy Ru), is taking his recovery in stride, and things are going great: He has just gotten a job, he is reunited with his “Beautiful Boriqua Taino Mamacita Love Me Long Time Princess Fuckin’ Beauty Queen” girlfriend Veronica (Jackie Aguirre), and his health-nut AA sponsor, Ralph (Jay Are Adams), is keeping him on the straight and narrow. But then, he notices a man’s hat in the apartment he shares with Veronica — a man’s hat that does not belong to him. Realizing that his beloved Veronica is cheating on him with a “motherfucker with the hat,” he enlists the help of Ralph and his cousin, Julio (Nicholas Menna) to keep him from relapsing and from violating his parole. But no one is immune to temptation, and not everyone abides by the same moral codes as Jackie — not Veronica, or even Ralph, or Ralph’s unhappy wife, Victoria (Kerry Giorgi).
Directed by Mixed Magic Theatre’s artistic director, Jonathan Pitts-Wiley, and performed at the Academy Players’ new space on Buttonwood Drive in Providence (the James and Gloria Maron Cultural Center for the Arts), the play features rapid-fire dialogue (in which pretty much every other word is profane) and tensions between the characters that, from the very first scene, threaten to erupt into violence. This one is definitely not for those who are sensitive to rough language, in case the title failed to make that clear.
Ru’s Jackie starts out as bright-eyed and looking hopefully to the future, but quickly descends into losing faith in the people who mattered the most to him, leading him to make some drastic (read: poor) decisions. Aguirre is a force to be reckoned with as the fiery and outspoken Veronica, who keeps a metal baseball bat under her bed and is decidedly not afraid to use it. Adams is smooth-talking and charismatic as Ralph, until he is revealed to be a moral-less nihilist. Though Giorgi is only in a few scenes as Victoria, her portrayal is deliciously bitter and scathing. Menna’s Julio is a scene-stealer, from his instant camaraderie with Ralph as the two exchange business cards and health tips, to his brutal honesty with Jackie, to his threats to unleash his inner Van Damme in support of his cousin.
There is no shortage of comedy here, but it is ultimately a dark story where no one is happy, and no one really gets a happy ending. Likewise, no one is blameless — everyone has their faults and vices. The Motherfucker with the Hat is certainly an appropriate and timely choice in the midst of the opioid epidemic. Even conviction has its limits.
Epic Theatre Company presents The Motherfucker with the Hat, directed by Jonathan Pitts-Wiley at the James and Gloria Maron Cultural Center, 180 Buttonhole Dr (Bldg. 2), PVD through Oct 20. For tickets, visit epictheatreri.org or artists-exchange.org