Thursday, January 21, 2016

Find out who "The Motherfucker with the Hat" is at Washington Ensemble Theatre

Erwin Galan and Anna Lamadrid in The Motherfucker with the Hat (photo Chris Bennion)
The Motherfucker with a Hat
Washington Ensemble Theatre
Through February 1, 2016

Maybe you shouldn’t trust an addict… When, in recovery, do you think you could start trying to trust an addict? Do we ever really know what someone is thinking or feeling? These questions, and a focus on humans relating in general, are the kind raised by Stephen Adly Guirgis’ play, The Motherfucker with the Hat. It’s being produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre at 12th Avenue Arts. While the language is blunt and crass, with lots of “fucks,” the fundamentals of love and trust and relationship are really at stake.

Jackie (Erwin Galan) is a recovering addict with a girlfriend who waited for him while he was in the joint, Veronica (Anna Lamadrid), a jerky, narcissistic sponsor, Ralph (Ali Mohamed al-Gasseir), and a cousin who used to adore him, Julio (Moises Castro). He’s proud of himself, having gotten out of jail and found a job. He wants to celebrate with Veronica, until he sees a man’s hat on the table, and instantly decides she’s been cheating on him. Just who is the motherfucker with the hat?
 
Part of what we can guess is that Jackie is projecting, knowing that if Veronica found a female garment, it would mean Jackie had really cheated on her. Part of what we can guess is that Veronica is still doing drugs, as Ralph insistently points out, and nothing she says can be counted on. The actors are so engaging that part of us probably wants it to be a random hat that doesn’t belong to anyone doing anything wrong, so they don’t have to fight.

Jackie is a hot head and makes some rash decisions, then comes to his cousin to help him manage. Castro, as the slightly effeminate cousin who loves his wife, is a ton of fun and gets to be the most honest and truth-telling character in the show. Julio is always there for Jackie, though, even as he astutely measures his cousin and finds him sadly lacking.

Jackie stays with Ralph and Ralph’s attractive, but weary wife Victoria (Meg McLynn), which poses another dilemma to Jackie. We see Jackie struggle with a badly working internal compass, trying to stay sober, and somehow true to himself.

Directed with a sure hand by Valerie Curtis-Newton, the small cast dances through the play (everyone participates in meticulous scenic changes), and inhabits the fully realized characters beautifully. Each character avoids clich├ęs and each gets a moment of clarity when sound advice and true understanding are uttered.

Galan shows every emotion on his facile face and compels watching at every moment. Lamadrid does some lovely understated acting, almost flatly delivering her lines, in a way that totally avoids what could have devolved into over-acting. al-Gassier is both repellant and attractive. McLynn takes a small role and makes the most of it.

Pete Rush creates an intricate 3/4 thrust set, where every different apartment is quickly remade, while making the audience feel like we’re part of the walls. Evan Anderson’s lighting highlights characters to help display their emotions.

The play has a lot of heart. The playwright likes his characters. Part of the second act does seem to go on a bit too long, and the ending is a bit abrupt. Still, the production is a solid one. Note that there is smoke, stage violence, and nudity, and be advised if those are problems for you.

For more information, go to www.washingtonensemble.org