Being dropped into a series of Manhattan apartments circa 2010 for a fast-paced comedy might now feel like a dated sitcom. And while there are elements of Stephen Adly Guirgis' play that perhaps would not be written in the same way today, much of it still feels fresh and relevant.

Centre on Jackie (Francois Pandolfo), out on parole and struggling with his addictions. He has an unhealthy off-on relationship with his high school sweetheart Veronica (Alexandra Riley) and a strange friendship with his ‘clean-living’ sponsor, Ralph D (Jermaine Dominique). Guirgis’ The Motherf**ker With The Hat delivers a fascinating and often complex look at the way relationships influence our lives and offers a funny but quite intricate look at addiction.

The Motherf**cker with the Hat Sherman Theatre

Alexandria Riley (image courtesy of John Johnston)

Andy Arnold‘s production presents a refreshing look at a subject that is often treated with kid gloves and reverence. While there is a clear undertone of the seriousness of addiction and its consequences, he taps into the fact that people, addicts or not, are also incredibly funny in extreme circumstances. The overall tone of the show is that of a relationship drama, but amplified – a clever nod to the effects of such substances that make everything louder, quicker and, yes, funnier.

Guirgis’ script fires out comedy so fast that the accompanying tragedy isn’t fully felt until later. Arnold’s direction mostly keeps up, but the nature of his staging sometimes conflicts with the natural pace. Much to-ing and fro-ing through doors occurs on Kenny Miller‘s multi-level set, the restrictive nature of which often feels at odds with the overarching narrative. The metaphoric levelling, relating to class, location and relationships, is a nice touch, and in rare moments of calm Miller creates some beautiful visuals that add to the resonance after the comedy dies away.

The Motherf**cker with the Hat Sherman Theatre

Francois Pandolfo & Renee Williams (image courtesy of John Johnston)

The actors clearly relish their roles – Riley balances Veronica’s sharp wit with the emotional depth that her character needs. Similarly, Pandolfo accounts for the outlandish aspects of Jackie, delivering everything from hilarious lines to almost slapstick fist-fights, but always with an eye on the complexities of the character. A truly understated performance, but one that is worth seeing the whole production for, is Renee Williams as Victoria. In a company of larger than life characters, hers is one that can easily be lost. But Williams delivers a quietly devastating performance that cuts through the noise of the others.

There feels like a misstep in the direction of Cousin Julio, despite Kyle Lima‘s incredible work with an understated and challenging character. Julio has a lot to say about the community that Jackie comes from – in the script there are clues, even cuttingly devastating lines, that allude to the conflict between his sexuality and his marriage, the use of exercise and the underlying violence of his character. But with Arnold’s direction, Julio is played for laughs instead, which masks the depth of the writing.

The Motherf**cker with the Hat Sherman Theatre

Kyle Lima & Francois Pandolfo (image courtesy of John Johnston)

The Motherf**ker With The Hat remains a fresh, funny and important piece of theatre. Guirgis’ fast-paced nature leaves little time to reflect during the piece itself, but is one that resonates after the fact. Arnold directs this production with an eye for the comedy, but overlooks the need to let the tragedy seep through. The talented cast redeem any missteps with rounded performances that ensure the strength of the writing endures.

 

 

★★★★☆

The Motherf**ker With The Hat runs at Sherman Theatre until 31 March 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.