Two 2011 Best Play Tony nominees end their runs in Boston this weekend. Stephen Adly Guirgis' tough-talking The Motherf**ker with the Hat runs through October 13 at SpeakEasy Stage while David Lindsay-Abaire's locally flavored Good People is at the Huntington Theatre Company through October 14. Both deal with people trying to overcome the disadvantaged lives they were born into: the first a New York City street kid and ex-con trying to go straight and stay sober, the second a working-class South Boston single mom trying desperately to provide for her severely handicapped adult daughter. While Motherf**ker tries very hard to be shocking, gritty and insightful, it is the gentler and funnier Good People that packs the lasting punch.
The Mother**ker with the Hat
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis; directed by David R. Gammons; scenic design, Eric Levenson; costume design, Gail Astrid Buckley; lighting design, Jeff Adelberg; sound design, David Remedios
Cast in order of appearance:
EveLyn Howe as Veronica; Jaime Carrillo as Jackie; Maurice Emmanuel Parent as Ralph D; Melinda Lopez as Victoria; Alejandro Simoes as Cousin Julio
Now through October 13, SpeakEasy Stage, Roberts Studio Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont Street, Boston; tickets are $25-$57 with discounts for students, seniors and those under 25; available online at www.SpeakEasyStage.com or by calling the Box Office at 617-933-8600.
It takes almost two hours for Stephen Adly Guirgis' searing comedy The Motherf**ker with the Hat to land emotionally, but when it does, look out. It's a whopper. Ironically, this contemporary urban tale of ex-cons and addicts in various stages of recovery is most gripping when it dials down the street talk and lets the silence of love shine through. There's one final gentle gesture of adoration and forgiveness at the end that turns all of the previous rage and insecurity into an unexpected tidal wave of hope. As it turns out, this is the play's most tender moment, and its most devastating.
As the title would suggest, The Motherf**ker with the Hat takes place on the fringes of a gritty inner New York City world influenced by gangs, drugs, violence and poverty. Jackie, a young Latino man trying to turn his life around after serving time and getting sober, finds his new job and sobriety tested when he suspects his girlfriend Veronica (a fiery EveLyn Howe) of having an affair with another man. When Veronica refuses to identify the man whose hat Jackie finds in her apartment, they square off, words and fists flying. Afraid he'll snap and violate his parole, Jackie seeks the advice of his fast-talking twelve-step sponsor, Ralph D (a menacingly charming Maurice Emmanuel Parent).
The real stabilizing influence in Jackie's life, however, turns out to be his gay cousin Julio (the delightful Alejandro Simoes), a massage therapist and personal trainer who thinks good food can solve any squabble – unless, of course, violence becomes necessary! Then he's ready to kick a**. Julio is the one who knows both sides of Jackie – the selfish user and the kind protector – and he's never afraid to hold the mirror up to either face.
Guirgis, too, holds a mirror up to his characters, revealing the complex contradictions of addictive personalities. Wanting to succeed but self-sabotaging at every turn, Jackie, Veronica and even Ralph D delude themselves into thinking someone else is always to blame. What sparks hope for Jackie is his willingness to take his twelve steps to heart and begin to take responsibility for his own life.