San Diego Theater Preview: THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT (Cygnet Theatre Company)

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by Tony Frankel on May 22, 2014

in Theater-Regional

SAY IT, MOTHERFUCKER

Whitney Brianna Thomas, Laurence Brown and Steven Lone in THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT at Cygnet Theatre.When you see the word “Motherf**ker” in the title The Motherf**ker with the Hat, what comes to mind? Why, “Motherfucker,” naturally. While the asterisks may be necessary for public advertising, Stephen Adly Guirgis did not use them for the title of his smart and laugh-out-loud funny tragicomedy that Cygnet Theatre opens this week. Among many reasons to see its production, just look to the company’s self-knowing disclaimer: “Contains drugs, violence, nudity, sexual situations and a lot of strong f**king language.” But this romp doesn’t need any fucking asterisks. And neither do you.

Steven Lone and Sandra Ruiz in THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT at Cygnet Theatre.Two minutes into Guirgis’s The Motherfucker with the Hat, you will hear the word “fuck” or a derivative thereof so many times that you will lose count. But it never feels gratuitous or offensive, because the salty language that emanates from the character of Veronica isn’t used for shock value; the crude, urban, offbeat dialect from this resident of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen is Guirgis’s way of walking the line between raw reality and agile humor. Bronx couple Veronica and Jackie, alcohol and drug addicts, are never at a loss for words because they simply finish a thought with an expletive: Soon after the first dozen f-bombs, Jackie hands Veronica a gift with, “It’s a fuzzy bear that grips and shit.” The abundant profanity is also filled with unexpected poetry. Every four-letter word seems at first to be little more than a casual, appropriate example of New York street vernacular—but Guirgis is anything but casual, and his grittiness can be strangely ethereal.

I have seen this crackling, compelling play twice, and I can’t get enough. Fortunately, Cygnet, which has recently offered extraordinarily satisfying productions (Company and Travesties among them) concludes its season with Motherfucker, directed by Rob Lutfy, and you better fuckin’ catch it before June 22.

When Jackie notices “the man hat that-ain’t-my-hat” on Veronica’s bedside table, it sets into motion a play that finds genuine comic pathos not only in its characters’ struggles with addiction, violence, poverty, sexual compulsion, and sexual identity, but in their various, mostly unfulfilled, attempts to distinguish between the people Laurence Brown and Sandra Ruiz in THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT at Cygnet Theatre.they are and the people they pretend to be.

Also exciting is that we will see many new faces on the Cygnet stage. I have written for years about the high quality of acting in Chicago Theater. Celebrated actor Esteban Andres Cruz, recently transplanted from the Windy City to L.A., will no doubt validate my assertion that America’s finest actors have cut their teeth in Chicago. Cruz will sink those razor-sharp fangs into the role of Jackie’s Cousin Julio, a seemingly gay man who was once in a “sex addiction fellowship” and is now married to a woman he loves.

Esteban Andres CruzWhile San Diego audiences may be unfamiliar with the Chicago companies that Cruz has worked with, I assure you these are the crème de la crème of American Theater: Among many, he has appeared at Writers’ Theater, Steppenwolf Theater, Victory Gardens, The Hypocrites, Strawdog, and Raven. He also worked with Broadway director David Cromer (Our Town) as Angel in Rent, and received the Jefferson (similar to L.A.’s Ovation Award) for his portrayal of Angel Cruz in Guirgis’s Jesus Hopped the A Train. Along with his experience, Cruz will use his knowledge of Guirgis to lead a professional scene study workshop beginning May 27 with Actors Alliance of San Diego. The class will focus on four plays from Guirgis, a longtime member of New York City’s LAByrinth Theater, the company which originally produced five of his plays, all directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

mfwiththehat_homepage_banner2Also in the cast are Laurence Brown as Jackie’s sponsor, Ralph D, and Whitney Brianna Thomas as his wife, Victoria. Brown was previously seen at Cygnet in three August Wilson plays, and Thomas makes her Cygnet debut after years on the boards in San Francisco (another great theater town). Jackie will be played by Steven Lone (2013 Craig Noel Award Nominee for The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety), and San Diego-native Sandra Ruiz (In the Time of the Butterflies at San Diego Rep) takes on Veronica, whose phone etiquette is witnessed early on when she tells her mom, “You’re dating a fuckin’ big-time loser with a head like a actual fuckin’ fish!”

Now, you can fuckin’ deal with that, right?

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production photos by Ken Jacques

The Motherfucker with the Hat
Cygnet Theatre Company
Old Town Theater, 4040 Twiggs St.
Wed and Thurs at 7:30 pm, Fri at 8:00 pm,
Sat at 3pm and 8pm, and Sun at 2pm and 7pm
scheduled to end on June 22, 2014
for tickets, call 619-337-1525 or visit www.cygnettheatre.com

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