The Sapir –Whorf Hypothesis states that language is created because there is a way and need to express ideas, that the language used represents the culture and therefore expresses ideas in a way that reflects attitudes, often without a filter or censorship. It goes on to state that we are our language.
Stephen Adly Guirgis, in his script, MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT, illustrates this hypothesis well. This is true not only in his choice of a title, but the way in which his characters speak, listen, and react to words.
Publicists for Guirgis’s play, which has been dubbed a “high octane verbal cage match about love, fidelity and misplaced haberdashery,” had troubles when the show opened in 2011 in New York. Some newspapers refused to print the “real” title or even take advertising, so the producers had to change the play’s name to THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT. It’s going to be interesting to see how the more conservative local papers handle the writings about the show which is now on stage at Dobama.
As for the characters, four out of the five use language that might be called offensive, in polite society. Why did Guiris use almost every four letter word in the English language? He was reflecting the way that the people he was depicting really would talk. These are individuals who were brought up in environments where this language is common, the language of the streets, the words that get to the base level of expression. It’s not comfortable language for traditional theatre-goers, but it is the real language of some real people.
The story centers on Jackie, a former drug dealer, who has just been released from prison. He not only has to conform to his rules of release, which includes participating in a twelve-step program, but has to adapt to dealing with societal rules. This is not made easier by having a girlfriend like Veronica, who is a cocaine and pot user and has been having an affair while Jackie was incarcerated. His problems are amplified by having an addiction sponsor, Ralph D, who speaks in clichés, is living a life which lacks reality, is in conflict with his wife, and turns out to be Veronica’s lover. Jackie, in a rage over finding a hat in the apartment that he shares with Veronica, assumes that her lover is the downstairs neighbor. Jackie gets a gun, proceeds to give the hat back to its supposed owner, and shoots a hole in the chapeau. Thus, the play gets it’s name and spins out of control.
A 2011 production, which starred Chris Rock, the king of smut-mouth stand up comedy, opened to mixed reviews in the Big Apple. The show received a median grade of B- according to StageGrade (http://www.stagegrade.com) which, like the local area’s clevelandtheatrereviews.com, reports summary reviews of New York productions. In spite of the less than stellar comments, it ran to over 90% capacity during its run, mainly due to Rock’s drawing power and the shock value of the title.
MOTHERF**KER is not an easy play to sit through. The characters have few redeeming qualities, the language is rough, and the conclusion somewhat unsatisfying. Yet, in spite of this, the characters are so clearly etched, the violent grip of addiction clearly spotlighted, the living life with false hopes exposed, the problems created by helplessness highlighted, the meaning of moral relativism exposed, and the concept that some people refuse to be loved amplified, a play which could be off-setting, turns out to be fascinating.
Dobama’s production, under the adept direction of Dianne Boduszek, is spot on. The author’s intent and purpose are well developed. The production does not run from the needed gruffness of the language, but embraces it so that even the most sensitive ear can simply accept the expression as the authentic voice of these people.
There is not a weakness in the professional cast. Jeremy Kendall, who embraces the role, is enthralling as the addicted, explosively emotional Jackie.
Charles Kartali is properly smug and phony as Ralph D., the sponsor from hell. Anjanette Hall clearly creates a Veronica who reacts and responds from a background filled with angst. Bernadette Clemens effectively makes Ralph D’s wife into a woman caught in a charade of life, who needs to escape. Jimmie Woody creates in Cousin Julio, Jackie’s relative, a fey character who seems to be the only person who has some semblance of clarity.