GableStage Artistic Director Joe Adler likes to make his largely patrician audiences at the Biltmore uncomfortable. We’ve seen it in programming like Blasted and In the Next Room (or the Vibrator Play) and now, The Motherf**ker with the Hat, the show that had Broadway buzzing last year.
At the last three GableStage productions, Adler took an almost sophomoric glee in seeing how many times he could drop the upcoming production’s title in his pre-show remarks, as the little old ladies squirmed in their seats.
But, make no mistakes, there’s nothing sophomoric about the multiple Carbonell Award-winning director who has landed the South Florida premieres of several hot Broadway titles and—unrelenting barrage of “F-bombs” not withstanding—Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherf**ker with the Hat.
Adler chose the work, he says, because he wanted “something funny to start the year,” and Mother is funny, a profane look at the lives of working class stiffs in New York City, dealing with addiction and recovery and the consequences each has on the relationships around them.
Arturo Fernandez stars as Jackie, a good-hearted street punk who has recently returned to his longtime girlfriend Veronica (Gladys Ramirez) after serving a two-year sentence for dealing drugs. He has given up drugs and booze and desperately, desperately wants to maintain sobriety, even as he remains in a heated, dysfunctional relationship with a user.
He comes home early to their dingy apartment one day, proud to have landed his first real job, only to discover a mysterious man’s hat on the table. His jealousy enrages and a course of events get set in motion that reveals recovery just isn’t easy.
Jackie flees to the apartment of Ralph (Ethan Henry), his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who spews mantra from the Bible of 12-step programs, the Big Book. Ralph has carved out a seemingly healthy life for himself and wife Victoria (Betsy Graver), downing vitamin-laced shakes and food supplements. Along the way, we meet cousin Julio (Alex Alvarez), a somewhat fey character and stand-up guy.
Guirgis dishes up a colorful cast of characters who, at first glance, seem somewhat two-dimensional, almost caricatures, but we learn are instead very complex, juggling passion and aspirations while fighting off personal demons and lots of baggage. No one is quite who they seem. Under Adler’s direction, the entire cast, and especially Fernandez and Henry, offer nuanced performances that keep their characters real, even when Guirgis throws yet another unlikely curve to the plot.
Lyle Baskin’s set effectively subdivides intimate boxy space to create three separate apartments and the scene changes are accentuated by Matt Corey’s sound design and crisp lighting changes from Jeff Quinn to give the production a cinematic quality.
The Motherf**ker from the Hat
1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables
Thurs. – Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets $45-50 at GableStage.org