TODAY

Thursday, August 21

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


A/C
« Unchained and Uninhibited: An Interview with Comedian Donnell Rawlings Comedy Seen: Five Great Comedy Shows of 2012 »

Theater Mon Jan 07 2013

At Steppenwolf: The Motherf**ker with the Hat

motherfuckerhat.jpeg

How do we better ourselves? Or, to frame the question in the context of the addicts who populate Stephen Adly Guirgis' darkly comic drama, The Motherf**ker With The Hat, how do we get better? How do we stave off that most chronic of conditions: human weakness? It's a basic yet abstract dilemma that is given both vibrancy and gripping relevance in the latest production of the play at the Steppenwolf Theatre. For the users and losers grappling with their weaknesses in Guirgis' world of last chances, the difference between transcending and succumbing is nothing short of the difference between life and death.

The play centers on Jackie (John Ortiz), an ex-con and recovering alcoholic trying to stay clean and keep his relationship with his long-time, on-and-off girlfriend, Veronica (Sandra Delgado) afloat. But when Jackie discovers an unfamiliar fedora in their apartment, he finds himself unable to divest himself of the seed of doubt, a seed that quickly burrows itself deeper and deeper into his mind. It would be a disservice to reveal much more about the plot, since so much of the pleasure of the production lies in its masterful deployment of information. Previously watertight alibis loosen; histories swept under the rug begin to creep out from the edges. The more Jackie discovers, the more unsettling the truth becomes and the more hopeless reconciliation seems. Suffice it to say that between Jackie's health-obsessed sponsor, Ralph D. (Jimmy Smits), his cousin Julio (Gary Perez), and Ralph's wife, Victoria (Sandra Marquez), everyone has reason to cling to at least a secret or two.

If the above sounds like the setup for a standard afternoon soap opera, that's because it pretty much is. The difference in the case of Motherf**ker--and what makes all of its miring worthwhile--is its commitment to levity. There's no situation so tragic that director Anna D. Shapiro would abstain from milking it for laughs. (A state of affairs no doubt buoyed by the wit provided in Guirgis' script.) By the end of the play, the crisis and chaos that began with the hat has engulfed everyone involved. But these people aren't just punching bags--they're punching bags who have all been pummeled enough to know that the beating can always get worse.

It's that wry weariness, the constant refuge in the humor of agony, that makes Motherf**ker more than just a vanilla domestic drama. Guirgis reminds the audience throughout that any relief possible for people like this will probably be conditional and will definitely be temporary. As Julio freely reminds Jackie, he's not nearly as good a guy as he thinks he is. Ralph's charisma and positive attitude are believable only so long as he can repress the ugliness he so strenuously keeps at bay. And Veronica, as supportive as she may be, is still an addict. Grand, audience-gratifying words like "Redemption" and "Recovery," in this context, are decidedly relative. We hope for the best, but we expect the worst.

Considering the narrative and thematic weight of the material, the cast of Motherf**ker prove themselves to be, well, a tough bunch of motherf**kers. Ortiz's haplessness is at once frustrating and endearing. Smits' well-known charisma finds a perfect match in Ralph's gradually increasing despicability. And as Veronica, Delgado is wild-eyed, fierce, and legitimately scary. If the ensemble occasionally shows the strain of working under Guirgis' nonstop showcase of human misery, it's certainly understandable: they're dealing with a tightly packed can of worms.

Don't misunderstand: despite its undeniable humor, Motherf**ker is a cold, skeptical look at our everyday potential for evils both small and large. It's an exhausting, intermission-less hour and forty minutes. But for those who can handle the beating, it's certainly worth it.

The Motherf**ker with the Hat runs through Mar. 3 at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets range from $20 to $86 and can be purchased online or by phone at 312-335-1650.

 

LaShawn Williams / January 8, 2013 11:58 AM

Really nice review, Austin.

Add a Comment




Please enter the letter f in the field below:



Live Comment Preview


Notes & Tags

Items marked with a * are required fields. Please respect each other. We reserve the right to delete any comments borne out of douchebaggery or that deal in asshattery.

Permitted tags and how to use them:

To link: <a href="http://blahblahblah.com">Link text</a>
To italicize: <em>Your text</em>
To bold: <strong>Your text</strong>

Theater Wed Aug 13 2014

An Epic, Tragic Win: All Our Tragic

By Benjamin Cannon & Mike Ewing

What then is to be made of the Hypocrites' new stage production, All Our Tragic? This massive opus, comprising all 32 surviving Greek tragedy plays re-written and directed by Sean Graney, lasts a staggering 12 hours, including intermissions and meal breaks. Ben and Mike go the distance.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Aug 15 2014

The Expendables 3, Let's Be Cops, The Giver, Venus in Fur, Dinosaur 13 & The German Doctor

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

Blogroll

ACRE
An Angry White Guy
Antena
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Collaboraction
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Defibrillator
Devening Projects
Digressions
DIY Film
ebersmoore
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
HollywoodChicago
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
InCUBATE
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
J-Pointe
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Marquee
Mess Hall
N'DIGO
Neoteric Art
NewcityArt
NewcityFilm
NewcityStage
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Onstage
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
Performink
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
SAIC Blog
The Seen
Sharkforum
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Steppenwolf.blog
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
threewalls
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Vocalo
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

 

Events

Thu Aug 21 2014
Invaders from Mars & The General w/Live Soundtrack

Thu Aug 21 2014
Aloft Circus Arts Presents Dinner of Our Discontent @ Chopin Theatre

Thu Aug 21 2014
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone @ Lincoln Park Zoo

Thu Aug 21 2014
A Jangleheart Circus

Thu Aug 21 2014
Chicago Comic Con

Fri Aug 22 2014
Aloft Circus Arts Presents Dinner of Our Discontent @ Chopin Theatre

Fri Aug 22 2014
A Jangleheart Circus

Fri Aug 22 2014
Chicago Dancing Festival

Fri Aug 22 2014
Chicago Comic Con

Sat Aug 23 2014
Queerpocalypse @ Mayne Stage

Sat Aug 23 2014
Aloft Circus Arts Presents Dinner of Our Discontent @ Chopin Theatre

Sat Aug 23 2014
Chicago Dancing Festival

Sat Aug 23 2014
A Jangleheart Circus

Sat Aug 23 2014
Bucktown Arts Festival

Sat Aug 23 2014
Chicago Comic Con

Sun Aug 24 2014
Aloft Circus Arts Presents Dinner of Our Discontent @ Chopin Theatre

Sun Aug 24 2014
Bucktown Arts Festival

Sun Aug 24 2014
Chicago Comic Con

Mon Aug 25 2014
Impress These Apes @ ComedySportz

Tue Aug 26 2014
The Moth StorySLAM @ Martyrs'

Tue Aug 26 2014
The Wizard of Oz @ Millennium Park

Wed Aug 27 2014
Avatar @ Millennium Park


A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.



About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: LaShawn Williams, ldw@gapersblock.com
A/C staff inbox: ac@gapersblock.com

Archives

 

A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15

Newsletter

Sign up for our free email newsletter I Star Chi and get a weekly round-up of the best of Gapers Block, plus our picks for must-do events each weekend!

istarchi

Preferred format    Preferred format