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Monday, January 14, 2013

F**kin' great acting in Steppenwolf Theatre's The Motherf**ker with the Hat



Does anyone still wear a hat?

This question sprung to mind while I was watching the opening scene of Stephen Adly Guirgis' play, The Motherfucker with the Hat, which is currently receiving a well-directed production by Anna D. Shapiro at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre. I rarely see anyone out and about in a hat, but one must suspend their disbelief in order to accept the creaky premise of this play, which begins with an insanely jealous man discovering another guy's hat in his girlfriend's apartment. A similar plot can also be found in the wonderful 1937 screwball comedy, The Awful Truth - back when men like actor Cary Grant used to wear hats. But now this just seems like a very contrived way to start a play set in the present day. And then Jackie, the jealous lover, quickly jumps to the conclusion that Veronica, the woman he loves, is having an affair with their downstairs neighbor, whom he believes is the owner of the hat. Of course, this leads to a fight and a separation, and the rest of the play revolves around whether Jackie and Veronica will ever get back together. Now despite this familiar sitcom-y set-up, I did enjoy myself. There are many amusingly raunchy lines, and Guirgis eventually delves much deeper into all of his characters, allowing us to better understand their flaws and feel their pain.

However, the main reason to see this production is the outstanding performances. And although I will admit that actor Jimmy Smits - making his Steppenwolf debut - majorly influenced my decision to attend, I was impressed with the entire cast, including John Ortiz (from Silver Linings Playbook) as Jackie, understudy Yadira Correa as Veronica, and Sandra Marquez as Victoria, the wife of Jackie's AA sponsor, Ralph (played by Smits, who is just as good on stage as he is on television). They are all great, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would have to be Gary Perez, who made me laugh in every scene that he stole as Jackie's ambiguously gay cousin Julio. I also must mention Todd Rosenthal's effective scenic design of a crumbling apartment stairwell as well as many revolving rooms that were fun to watch.

The Motherfucker with the Hat is a poignant dark comedy that will grow on you over the course of its intermission-less 100 minutes. And it will probably discourage you from ever wearing a hat.

The Motherfucker with the Hat runs through March 3 in Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre (1650 N. Halsted). For tickets and further information, call the box office at 312-335-1650 or go to www.steppenwolf.org.

The photo is by Michael Brosilow, and below you can watch a trailer for The Motherfucker with the Hat.

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