Thursday, 3 March 2016

#ReadaPlayaWeek: The Motherfucker with the Hat

Plays, of course, are meant to be seen and not read, but it’s not always possible to see every play. They are not complete on the page, certainly in contemporary theatre where plays can be more collaboratively made than ever before. However, it encourages us (and hopefully others) to read more widely. For the third year, here is our #ReadaPlayaWeek initiative. And, as achieved in 2015, we shall try to choose 26 male playwrights and 26 female playwrights for our play choices.

Week 9: The Motherfucker with the Hat, Stephen Adly Guirgis (2011)

Monday saw the announcement of the 2016 Olivier Award nominations, and while Best New Play seems to be a strongly contested category - Farinelli and the King, The Father, Hangmen and People Places & Things are the nominees – it was surprising that Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherfucker with the Hat has been totally snubbed. Guirgis’ brash motormouth of a play had its UK premier last summer at the National Theatre and is commendable for its leanness, wit and heart.

In a crime riddled New York neighbourhood where life revolves around parole and AA meetings, the recently released and sober Jackie seems to be in luck with a new job and reunited with girlfriend, Veronica. That is, until the unwanted appearance of another man’s hat causes frictions between the pair and the hapless Jackie sets off on a quest for revenge.

Love versus addiction. Revenge versus redemption. Crime versus the discipline of clean-living consumerism – the interactions between Jackie’s enterprising sponsor, Ralph, and cousin, Julio play on this ironic contradiction as they discuss the virtues of health drinks, gym memberships and miracle hair loss cures, all the while helping an increasingly impatient Jackie conceal a gun. The play’s themes ultimately boil down to multiplicity. Nothing can be categorised neatly and Guirgis highlights the complexities of moral relativity. Ethics are repeatedly upended and challenged as Jackie struggles to better himself while being confronted with the hypocrisy of those around him and the betrayal of the ideology peddled to him as being vital to his recovery.

As the plot twists and turns at breakneck speed, the cadence of the language pulsates with urgency as we attempt to keep up with the stream of expletive-filled witticisms and insults. Guirgis’s language is creative, energetic and profane, developing a prosaic poetry out of the rhythms of the New York vernacular that elevates the play above its contemporaries.

In a play driven by strong characters, the central couple are particularly sympathetic and well-rounded. For all his hot-headedness, Jackie is a likable guy and Veronica’s fiery temper hides a vulnerability and a longing for the settled life which she has long been denied. The air of doom surrounding their relationship brings a poignancy to the play which underlies the high-octane verbal fisticuffs. By the final scene we’re left hoping (albeit, most likely in vain) that these characters can break away from the culture of self-destruction, and make something of themselves.


So, with everything in consideration, I ask again, what were the Olivier board thinking?! – The Motherfucker with the Hat is brilliant and, in my humble opinion, thoroughly worthy of awards contention.

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