Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Motherfucker with the Hat—Artists Rep—SW Portland



The Mo’fo with the Chapeau


This emotion-filled play is written by Stephen Adly Guirgis and directed by Kevin E. Jones.  It is playing at the theatre’s space at SW Alder St. and 16th Ave.  (Be warned, if there is a Timber’s game when you go, the parking availability on the streets is at a premium and the added so-called “event parking” is overinflated in prices and time.  My advice is to go there early, park in their lot and head over to the Hotel Deluxe, a couple blocks walk, for a drink or a meal.)  It plays through March 30th.  For more information on this show and their season, go to their site at www.artistsrep.org or call 503-241-1278.

I can’t claim that witty title, as it goes to my friend, Dave, who came with me to the show.  But, as the theatre’s Artistic Director, Rodriguez, suggests, if you are offended by the title, this show is probably not for you.  In fairness, it does give you a flavor of what the piece is going to sound and look like.  It’s a slice of raw life in the Big Apple and it ain’t pretty.  But, on closer examination, you just might see that it transcends cultural, and becomes eerily recognizable, as you peer out your window or look into a mirror.


The story follows Jackie (John San Nicolas), a former addict and inmate of a prison and his attempts to adjust to the “real” world again.  His childhood girlfriend, Veronica (Diana De La Cruz), who he is living with, is still an addict herself, which is a very volatile and unhealthy relationship for someone attempting to go straight.  The “hat” of the title refers to a neighbor in the building who accidently left it there after a tryst with his girlfriend.  But this incident forces the end of their relationship and he moves in with his sponsor, Ralph (Victor Mack) and his wife, Victoria (Val Landrum).


But all is not quiet on this home front, either, as all is not as it seems.  So, wisely, Jackie flees from this potential powder keg to his cousin Julio’s (Gilberto Martin del Campo) apartment, who lends a sympathetic ear but this does not solve the problem, as Jackie knows he must confront his demons and face Ralph and, eventually, Veronica, once more.  But, at what price?  His sobriety?  Violence?  Lose of parole?  To reveal more would give away the outcome, so mums the word on the ending.


On the surface, this seems like just a story of people trying to survive in a very harsh and unfair atmosphere.  But, underneath it, there seems to be a thread of a loss of something important.  Something that happens during that delicate transition from childhood, the playground, to adulthood, the wasteland, perhaps.  It just not the loss of innocence.  It goes much deeper.  The bonds we form in childhood are forever.  As we learn to emulated adulthood, we discover we have to put on a mask, maybe several, to survive.  We learn to play “the Game.”  To succeed in that world, you must become a user of people or be used.  Things will never be simple again.


Jackie knows this, as his connection with Veronica goes back to those childhood bonds.  His relationship with his cousin also speaks of an undying connection, collaboration.  To revisit and rediscover those ties is gold.  The only trick is how to translate that treasure into a grown-up world.  A trait “devoutly to be wished.”


Jones has done an amazing job of catapulting us quickly through different locations without sacrificing the intense pace of the story.  The behind-the-scenes team in this show is extraordinary in achieving that purpose.  I do wish the blocking could have been a little more revealing because, playing on a three-quarter stage, a portion of the audience sometimes only got to see the back of an actor through much of a scene.  But the intensity was always present so nothing was lost, really, in the play’s intent.

San Nicolas as the focal character was amazing.  He held the heart of the story in his capable hands.  He gave us a complex individual who you could empathize, instead of just sympathize, with.  Mack, as his sponsor, is an extremely busy actor on the stage this season and always good to watch.  He captures well this person you want to despise, but he has such a grain of truth running through him, that you have to admire his, albeit distorted, way of playing “the Game.”

Martin del Campo came the closest to a good guy in this story.  A loyal friend/relation that was literally willing to “go to bat” for his cousin.  De La Cruz was on fire, as the girlfriend, wringing every ounce of emotion from the part.  And Landrum let us see through the veneer of a loyal wife to an unhappy and desperate lady underneath.  All well-created and deep performances.


I would recommend this show but, be warned, of the very adult language and situations involved.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.