This week’s trip to London warranted a night at the theatre, I was engrossed reading the background to the play and the playwright, The Motherf**cker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis has been brought over from Broadway, along with Yul Vázquez in the role of Cousin Julio.
The play is a love story, encased in the contemporary world of addiction, mentors and a reality which makes you sit forward and hope that wasn’t the final curtain bow.
As the story opens with the feel of a fast-moving set, wonderfully designed to zoom with the hard-hitting music, the atmosphere created of weaving through Manhattan neighbourhoods. The play, set across the scenes- Veronica and Jackie’s old Times Square residential hotel, Julio’s apartment in Washington Heights, and to Hell’s Kitchen and Ralph’s apartment- allows lives to unravel, from initial comedy, laughter and disbelief to uncomfortable laughter with a reality coming to the fore.
Focusing on Jackie (Ricardo Chavira), out of jail, focused on sobriety and going straight, is wonderfully convincing as the story unravels of his unfaithful girlfriend, Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez) and everything, the past and the present which underpins behaviours. It could be heavy, but the script reels you in, with humour, with gasps of disbelief as to what you are laughing at, and suddenly (probably only if you’re me) there is a fight scene between Jackie and sponsor Ralph (Alec Newman) and my hands went up as the coffee table fell through… not in the least embarrassing (really it wasn’t, people were too busy staring at the really annoying man two seats from me who talked to his partner through the 90-odd minutes), as always I seem to get too involved.
The UK and US cast seamlessly integrate, but there is obviously a reason Yul Vázquez has crossed with the play, he has ‘it’ in the role of Cousin Julio, an instant bond with the audience and absolutely selling the ability to be one with van Damme.
Whilst never explicitly or focused on judgement, the relationships which unfold between Jackie and Veronica alongside Ralph and Victoria contrast in lifestyles and behaviour, and yet morals do seemingly come into play, as you try to understand the intensity of Jackie and Veronica, the desire for happy ever after with the seeming reality that they may only succeed apart, to Ralph and Victoria, who will probably remain together, without the passion or desire for happiness.
Whether it be morals or the hope of happy ever after, it seems more that there is a need for good to prevail.
Because, Ricardo Chavira is absolute in portraying Jackie, the realness of the need to keep straight, off someone in-love and betrayed, and needing to respond, alongside Flor De Liz Perez keeping an absolute fragility to Veronica whilst delivering some of the best jaw-dropping, ‘did she really just say that’ lines to demonstrate an upbringing and reality which means a line of coke on the phone to your mum is completely acceptable.
There was a perfect balance to the performance, allowing consideration of judgement and behaviour, without creating a complete unease, the script- filled with the best comic lines (which in a captioned performance led many in the audience to point to the words for clarity they just did hear that) meant there was always a contrasting happiness to the reality portrayed.
The Motherf**cker with the Hat is at the National Theatre, London, until 20 August, tickets are available at theguardianboxoffice.com or on 0330 333 6906.