'Fuck, Yeah!' to 'The Motherfucker With the Hat'

South Coast Repertory's staging of Stephen Adly Guirgis' play shows the brilliance of fucking judicious fucking cursing

Last month, a Daily Pilot editor used the occasion of South Coast Repertory staging a play with a dirty word in the title—which he could not print in his paper—to take a jab at OC Weekly, calling us a rakish-and-proud-of-it publication.

The motherfucker is right.

Not only can we print motherfucker, which is the key word in Stephen Adly Guirgis' ferociously funny, if occasionally overwritten, play The Motherfucker With the Hat, but we also never miss the opportunity to do so. We can also print such words as shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, tits and Orange County Republican Party. Is using words that offend decent, morally sound folks vitally important to communicating an idea? Not always. But they can be quite effective, just as the litany of insults and ribald language in Guirgis' play make it such a guilty pleasure to watch.

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Location Info

Map

South Coast Repertory

655 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Music Venues

Region: Costa Mesa

Details

The Motherfucker With the Hat at South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 708-5555; www.scr.org. Tues.-Fri., 7:45 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 & 7:45 p.m. Through Jan. 27. $20-$70.

Motherfucker doesn't exactly break new theater ground. Plays about desperate people trying their best to get along on this motherfucking planet are nothing new. But it's distinctive on two fronts for SCR. Although the theater is renowned for emphasizing plays that are rich in language, rarely does it wheel out ones in which one motherfucker tells another motherfucker he fucked the guy's lady in her ass and she used her mouth to revive his dick. The coarseness of this motherfucking play is unavoidable.

It's also distinctive because it's not about the kind of people who generally populate SCR plays: eloquent, articulate white people, usually with money and high up on the social ladder. Think of the characters in two of SCR's most produced contemporary playwrights, Richard Greenberg and Donald Margulies. There may be motherfuckers in those pieces, but they're usually far more genteel (and white) than those in Guirgis' play.

Jackie (Tony Sancho, who powerfully navigates a rollercoaster of motherfucking emotions) has recently been freed from a two-year stint in prison for a drug offense. He's on parole and sincere about getting his life back on track. He's now a friend of Bill W. and lands a job. Overjoyed, he returns to the apartment he shares with his longtime love, a substance-abusing Veronica (Elisa Bocanegra), to celebrate the news only to see some motherfucker's hat on a small table. Convinced she has cheated on him, he explodes and rushes over to the pad of his sponsor, Ralph (a brilliantly nuanced Larry Bates), to unload. Ralph patiently tries to keep him from relapsing.

Of course, as so often happens in motherfucking plays, the situation is far more complicated. Toss in Ralph's angry wife, Victoria (Cristina Frias), and Jackie's cousin Julio (a show-stealing Christian Barillas), and a simmering pot of emotion, pent-up anger, secrets and lies threatens to boil over at any minute. Each of the five characters is far more complex and layered than originally presented, and director Michael John Garces skillfully guides the production through its flurry of salacious language, elevating it to a compelling examination of how to grow up in a world in which it's all too easy to stay trapped in a cycle of dependency and sabotage.

It's a brutally honest play that is brutally honest in its language. Unlike, say, a review that uses the word motherfucker in every graf, the relentless procession of cursing isn't gratuitous—it's an extension of character and a verbal counterpart to the daunting circumstances these characters find themselves in. These are not winners in any sense of the word. They are unemployed or just scratching by. They are either in recovery or really should be. Their relationships are volatile. They don't seem capable of keeping their dicks in their pants or their mouths off dicks.

Yet, every one of the motherfuckers is likeable, with the exception of the two female characters, neither of whom is as fleshed out as her male compatriots. Though the Veronica-Jackie relationship is the emotional linchpin, the play really seems about the shifting relationship between Jackie and Ralph. They are two deeply flawed men who are trying to figure their shit out and keep it together, neither one doing an exemplary job of doing so. As Ralph states, "I'm a grown man making my way in this world the best I can."

There are no happy endings or neatly tied bows. None of the motherfuckers seems substantially changed. They will continue to wrestle with issues of addiction, self-sabotage, unhealthy relationships and emotional baggage. But, in the course of the nearly two-hour play (which occasionally veers off-course in lengthy exchanges and whenever the dialogue feels more like a smart playwright talking than his street-savvy characters), they are all subjected to a heaping helping of honesty. That makes this play one of the most prurient-sounding to ever caterwaul across SCR's stage, but also one of its most realistic.

And is the language too much for SCR's mostly well-heeled audience? Considering it received something rather unusual for Orange County shows on the night I watched it—a sincere, spontaneous standing ovation—I'd say no motherfucking way.

 
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