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Review: Hat's Off to The Motherfucker With the Hat

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The Motherfucker With the Hat Edge Theater

The glory of The Motherfucker With the Hat, now receiving its regional premiere at Edge Theater, lies in author Stephen Adly Guirgis's dialogue, which is swift, surprising, inventive, aggressive and often staccato, and boasts a fling-about, take-no-prisoners energy. Despite the tough title, the streams of profanity, the constant hints of violence, and the tendency of the protagonists to hop into bed with just about anyone at any moment -- all claims of love and loyalty be damned -- the play is, at its core, a love story, a sort of Puerto Rican, edge-of-society Romeo and Juliet (no, not at all like West Side Story!) and with a heart as dewy-tender as a May morning. See also: Best Theater Season 2014 -- Edge Theater Company

Jackie is on parole and reuniting with Veronica, full of all kinds of plans for going straight, getting clean and building a life. He's brought her a bag of gifts that include a candy bar, movie tickets and a little fuzzy bear. We've already heard her give her mother some hard-hearted and hilarious sex advice on the phone, but tough though she is, Veronica melts. There is a problem, however: She's an unrepentant cocaine addict. There's also a second problem, which gives the play its title: There's a man's hat on the dresser, and it isn't Jackie's. Having found it, Jackie tries to sniff out the truth. Literally. He sticks his face into the bedclothes and detects the smells of "Aqua Velva and dick."

The other characters are Jackie's smarmy sponsor, Ralph, who spouts twelve-step platitudes and talks about prayer and health drinks; Ralph's unhappy wife, Victoria; and Jackie's flamboyantly gay cousin, Julio. Neither Jackie nor Veronica has been angelically faithful to the other -- they thrive on conflict and misunderstanding -- but that's nothing compared to Ralph's profound satyriasis and Victoria's sullen and detached sexual neediness.

Although just about everyone in this play slides into bed at the drop of a hat (no pun intended), the script explores anguished moral questions, and ethical lines are continually drawn, shifted, redrawn. Jackie has loved Veronica since they were kids, and he wants to stay faithful to her. She loves him just as much, but there are circumstances in which infidelity seems the only option: No matter how much these two love each other, they can't get through their own dumb limitations long enough to make the relationship stick. Much of the play's humor -- and it is very, very funny -- lies in the characters' semi-coherent equivocations and self-justifications.

Are these people completely believable? I didn't find them so -- or perhaps they are believable as individuals, but their relationships ring false. For all their verbal agility and expressiveness, they don't communicate much with each other -- though Jackie and Veronica certainly try, and cousin Julio has a touching moment of self-revelation. Many of the conversations are passionate but unheard, and I never became emotionally involved in the characters' heartbreaks or ephemeral triumphs. Still, none of these flaws are deal-breakers, because the world that Guirgis creates is so convincing, with a rhythm and internal logic of its own. And thanks to a strong production, you're kept deliriously absorbed through the evening's entire ninety-some minutes.

The set, which involves a revolving platform on which three different interiors appear, is a triumph for a company with a limited budget, and Josh Hartwell's direction is deft. All five actors have a strong presence. Kent Randell is a charming Jackie -- perhaps a little more appealing than the author intended. He has some wonderful silent moments when he tries to decode the absurdities flying around him, and good chemistry with Karen Slack's tough-mouthed, brassy Veronica. Ralph, played by Edge artistic director Rick Yaconis, is smooth as a snake, empty inside and shedding his principles as naturally as a snake sheds its skin. As Victoria, Patty Ionoff seems to have walked in from another milieu, somewhere much more elegant and refined, but she does communicate the character's resigned loneliness. Jude Moran's performance as Julio is less realistic -- perhaps fitting for a disintegrated personality who, despite a missionary zeal for green eggs, may be the most nurturing person in this world. Moran has some very funny moments, and every now and then you glimpse an expression in his dark eyes that hints at unexplored currents.

The Motherfucker With the Hat, presented by Edge Theater Company through February 15, 1560 Teller Street, Lakewood. For ticket information, call 303-232-0363 or go to theedgetheatre.com.


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