by Jess Hoffman
Albany Civic Theater–a theater with a special place in my heart that has been central to my love of theater–is currently the space for Harbinger Theatre’s production of The Motherf**ker with the Hat. The Motherf**ker with the Hat is a gritty, no-holds-barred examination of life and love. It is vulgar in its language (the title may be censored, but the language in the play is most assuredly not), but complex in its themes. It is also very funny when it isn’t deeply heartbreaking. In fact, sometimes it manages to be both.
The Motherf**ker with the Hat centers around a man named Jackie in addiction recovery and recently out of prison for dealing drugs. He discovers a man’s hat that isn’t his in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend and suspects she is cheating on him. Soon his sobriety and his parole are in jeopardy as infidelities and betrayals are revealed. This is not a groundbreaking plot, but the script is so well written and the production so wonderfully acted that the protagonist’s journey navigating the hard parts of life is truly incredible to watch.
Director Brian Sheldon has put together a remarkable cast. David Quiñones Jr. as Jackie was able to make the protagonist a sympathetic and evocative character while also making him deeply, deeply flawed. The same can be said of Siobhan Shea, whose portrayal of Jackie’s girlfriend Veronica was similarly complex and heartfelt. Daniel Michael Perez plays Jackie’s flamboyant cousin Julio and adds a fair bit of humor to some of the more dramatic moments in the play; but Julio is far from a stock clown character, and he too comes across as very real and complex. Victoria Nieves plays a small part as Victoria, but in the few moments where she takes the stage she reveals yet another character who is struggling to make sense of her place in the world, while also adding quite a bit of humor to the show. James Alexander plays Jackie’s sanctimonious and hypocritical sponsor Ralph. Alexander’s portrayal of Ralph is enjoyable, but unfortunately does not do enough to earn Ralph’s philosophizing and monologuing at the end of the play. This caused the otherwise fast-paced play to drag slightly at the end. It isn’t entirely Alexander’s fault that by the end of the play I had no interest in hearing what his character had to say; the script doesn’t give the character Ralph very much to work with. Even still, in a show where most, if not all, of the characters are very flawed people with whom the audience can still sympathize, Alexander was unable to make me sympathize with Ralph in moments where the play seems to require it.
The play takes place in the characters’ homes. Set designer Adam Coons has therefore split the already small Albany Civic stage into three sets: Jackie and Veronica’s bedroom, Ralph and Victoria’s living room, and Julio’s dining area. All these sets look wonderful and made use of the stage lights to illuminate each room in its turn; it also makes sense for homes of all the characters to be a little cramped. However the three small pieces of the stage do not give the actors much room to move around and consequently the actors occasionally wander onto adjacent sets that are not supposed to be part of that scene.
Because the play takes place entirely inside the homes of the characters, most of the costumes are modern, everyday house clothes. No costume designer was listed in the program and I therefore suspect that all of the costumes we see onstage are from the actors personal closets. With that said, the costumes are appropriate for each character and look to be exactly what they would probably wear in their private lives. Seeing all of the characters in pajamas, robes and underwear also creates a sort of voyeuristic intimacy between the audience and the characters. Veronica’s costumes are especially intimate and give a sense of vulnerability to an otherwise fierce character.
Every character in The Motherf**ker with the Hat is real, vulnerable, and flawed. That is part of what makes this show so deeply evocative. Overall the director and the cast do a tremendous job of bringing the audience into the characters’ lives and showing the way that different people live, love, grapple with life’s biggest challenges, and find their way through tough times. I highly recommend The Motherf**ker with the Hat to anyone who can stomach its dark themes and vulgar language. I especially recommend it to those who, like me, love to laugh in the face of life’s darkness and depravity.
Harbinger Theatre presents The Motherf**ker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis at Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Avenue Albany, NY. Directed by Brian Sheldon. Runs from June 16-25, 2023. Producer: Susan Katz. Stage Manager: Lisa Bryk. Light board operator: Sue Katz. Cast: David Quiñones Jr. as Jackie, Siobhan Shea as Veronica, James Alexander as Ralph, Victoria Nieves as Victoria, Daniel Michael Perez as Julio. Sound design by Joshua Horowitz. Set design by Adam Coons. Lighting by David Caso. Fight choreography by Molly Waters. Props by Lisa Bryk & Liam Pickett. Provider of The Hat: Joel Katz.
Performance dates are Friday-Sunday. Friday, and Saturday curtains are at 7:30pm and Sundays are matinees only at 3pm. Tickets are $15 for general intermission. Runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission. Contains drug use, alcohol use, vulgar language, sexual themes, and a gun. Recommended for ages 17+. Tickets are available online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/630752486667, or at the door for any performance. For more information visit https://www.actingclasswithpatrickwhite.net/ or https://www.albanycivictheater.org/.