Keep to the Code: Review of Workhorse Theatre Company’s The Motherf**ker With the Hat

by theatrebloggers

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The Motherf**ker With the Hat … it’s a peculiar title. But don’t let that throw you, Workhorse Theatre Company’s revival of their 2013 success is an excellent piece of theatre, with a couple of knockout performances. Stephen Adly Guirgis 2011 play is a no-holds-barred, fowl-mouthed exploration of temptation, morality and responsibility. The play crackles from the very beginning and maintains its pace – almost unwavering – until its close.

Jackie is a former drug dealer and recovering alcoholic, who is recently released from prison and has just managed to secure a job. He returns home to celebrate with his girlfriend, Veronica, only to discover a suspicious hat on his dining table. He immediately suspects the worse, and although Veronica swears she hasn’t been with anyone else, he refuses to believe her.  He looks for guidance from his sponsor, Ralph, a Ned Flanders type from the block: he quotes the bible, eats healthy and lives clean, advices restraint. Jackie’s cousin, Julio, another study in self-control, say the same thing. But this is to no avail – Jackie flies off the handle and confronts the man he believes to be the hat’s owner and squeezes off a couple of rounds into his house. But just who is at fault? We gradually come to learn that Jackie hasn’t been the most faithful partner, with more than an odd indiscretion or two under his belt. To top it off, the almost annoyingly perfect Ralph is maybe not quite as clean as he’d have everyone believe.

At heart this play is dealing with issues of morality.  Jackie talks about the rules that you’re supposed to abide by when Ralph’s wife, Victoria, propositions him. Yet Ralph himself preaches an almost nihilistic attitude, stating that if what we do makes us feel good, than where’s the harm. In practice, though, he basically does whatever he wants with little regard for who it affects. However, he does make one good point – take responsibility for your own actions, regardless of what they are. At the play’s opening Jackie is quick to find justifications for his own behaviour, and equally quick to condemn others. But by the close he seems to have taken Ralph’s lesson on board, and is more appreciative of the fact that there are no absolutes. A horrible person is capable of a good deed in a single moment; likewise, no individual deed is ever one hundred percent right or wrong.

Zoe Trilsbach as Veronica and Troy Harrison as Jackie. Photo by Kurt Sneddon

Zoe Trilsbach as Veronica and Troy Harrison as Jackie. Photo by Kurt Sneddon

Troy Harrison takes the lead as the Puerto Rican Jackie, hot headed and impulse driven.  Harrison has a powerful stage presence and an incredible ability to elevate the focus of his co-performers. There is a quiet intensity and innate energy that drives Harrison on stage. He grounds the action of every scene, and in doing so he provides the character with clarity of purpose.

Starring opposite Harrison was Zoe Trilsbach as Veronica, his stubborn, drug-addled girlfriend. Trilsbach has great clout and the opening scene between herself and Harrison was electrifying. Trilsbach is highly versatile and lends flair and flavour to a character that might otherwise become a mere stereotype.

John Atkinson plays Ralph, Jackie’s AA sponsor and closeted rascal. Atkinson confidently strut his stuff, and produced a well-pitched air of superiority. Whilst subtly condescending, the character lacked an aged authority, essential to the climactic confrontation with Jackie. Instead, some of the lines felt tired and did not carry enough weight to convince us that Jackie would ever have listened.

Suffering similarly was Megan O’Connell, playing Ralph’s unhappy and dissatisfied wife, Victoria. Whilst O’Connell possessed a well observed melancholy, she lacked the depth or intrigue to make the character, or the character’s journey, distinguish itself. Certainly, Victoria is meant to be a bit of a wall flower, but she is also required to deliver one of the largest reveals within the script. It felt insignificant on this particular night.

Almost stealing the show, however, was Nigel Turner-Carroll in the role of Julio, Jackie’s happy-go-lucky cousin and self-confessed health-nut. Sporting nylon spandex, a loose singlet and sneakers, Turner-Carroll presents a beautifully constructed character study; in both form and manner, his Julio pivots on the idea of ‘discipline’, the result of which is a rich tapestry of human frailty.  It was a pleasure to watch Turner-Carroll shed the layers as the play progressed.

Although the penultimate scene between Jackie and Ralph is a little loose, this is the exception in what is otherwise and very tight and riveting story that is brought to life by a fabulous group of actors.

The Motherf**ker With the Hat is playing with the Darlinghurst Theatre Company until the 19th of October. For more information see:
http://workhorsetheatreco.wordpress.com/2014-season/

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