The Motherf**ker With the Hat*** (National Theatre, Lyttelton)

Posted: June 18, 2015 in Theatre

FullSizeRender-71How thoughtful – a show that awards some of its own stars. 2015 Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play shows us the messed-up lives of a group of New Yorkers and includes enough raucous comedy to make the recently seen Bad Jews seem placid plus enough ripe language to make The Book of Mormon seem like a vicar’s tea party. Jackie (Ricardo Chavira) is on parole and in rehab, returning to live with his girlfriend since childhood, volatile and crack-addicted Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez). Their relationship begins to fall apart when Jackie discovers that the gentleman of the play’s title has left his headgear and several telling odours in their apartment. Jackie’s rehab sponsor is the self-absorbed and duplicitous Ralph (Alec Newman), who lives comfortably with his neurotic wife Victoria (Nathalie Armin). The entanglements of this four suggest a polarised city where an uneducated, drug/alcohol dependent underclass contrasts with pseudo intellectuals who consume health foods, practice yoga and learn to speak French. We are asked to compare the differences and to recognise the similarities. A series of clashes spark rich comedy, spurred by razor-sharp dialogue and top-notch performances. The icing on the cake is provided by Yul Vazquez as Julio, Jackie’s gay cousin, his droll, mannered delivery being never less than hilarious. Whether there is very much substance behind the laughs is questionable and the play as a whole feels as if it comes to less than the sum total of its many excellent parts. Director Indhu Rubasingham’s production flags only occasionally, when relentless belligerence become monotonous, but a climactic fight scene must rank as one of the least convincing in recent memory. Robert Jones’ sets consist of three nicely detailed apartments, with sections sliding in from all directions at changes and fire escape ladders hovering in mid-air throughout. Maybe this is all too much and, with only around half the width of the Lyttelton stage being used at any one time, it is possible that this is a play that could have been seen to better effect in the smaller Dorfman, with minimal sets. The staging feels not quite right, but then this play that dares not speak its full name may always have been just too American, too New York to ever settle comfortably in this theatre or indeed in this city.

Performance date: 16 June 2015

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