Clunky and slightly amateurish, this production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ comedy suffers from dodgy accents and a one dimensional tone.
Premiering on Broadway in 2011, The Motherf**ker with the hat (TMFWTH) here receives its Welsh Premiere in a co-production between Sherman Cymru and Tron Theatre Glasgow. It follows the story of alcoholic ex-convict Jackie (Francois Pandolfo) as he attempts to stay sober and clean up his life with the aid of his sponsor, the health obsessed and holier than thou Ralph (Jermaine Dominique). This is a task made more difficult by his drug addict girlfriend Veronica (Alexandria Riley), and Jackie’s suspicions that she is cheating on him with the eponymous Motherf**ker.
Designed by Kenny Miller, the set is clever – three slim and separate apartment scenes back on to each other, creating a flow and bleed in between scenes meaning no lengthy or unnecessary scene changes. It also suggests a ladder or hierarchy in life in which Jackie is stuck at the bottom. The dynamic between the cast is good, with lines clearly well rehearsed, yet unfortunately they are also missing a spark. Pandolfo is an excellent actor, yet is tripped up by a ropey American accent which distracts from Jackie’s tragic character. Kyle Lima is fantastic comic relief as Cousin Julio, and yet his caricature of a performance means he is unable to evoke the pathos required for the more serious monologues required of the role.
The play is obviously intended as a comedy, but also has the potential to raise some interesting questions about moral relativity and its flexible nature. Veronica feels she has the right to demand Jackie changes his alcoholic ways, yet is herself a drug addict. Ralph lectures on clean and virtuous living, yet is having an affair on his wife Victoria (Renee Williams). Sadly many of these messages get lost by the one dimensional pace of the production. There is not enough contrast in mood between the light comedy aspects and the dark thought provoking aspects. As a result, when tragedy does occur, it feels more like a farce than a serious event.
Guirgis’ script feels overly written, with characters taking a ten minute scene to say what could have been explained in half the time. Consequently, the 100 minute run time does begin to drag towards the end. Several of the jokes in the production are also problematic. One particular punchline uses the suggestion that male rape either does not happen or is a laughing matter, and only demonstrates a huge lack of sensitivity towards an issue which is difficult enough for men to speak about already. Yes, comedy can of course be close to the edge and push boundaries, but trivializing such issues can cause more harm than laughs.
The production also suffers from strangely amateurish inconsistencies – for example a dot matrix billboard starts the convention of explaining the location of each scene; “Times Square” etc. yet it is only used a couple of times, and then stopped. Such details are only minor, yet slip below the high standards expected at Sherman Cymru. At times the production does sparkle and shine – the scene in which Julio and Ralph first meet is utterly hilarious, and Jackie and Victoria’s stoned conversation is side splitting. Yet sadly these gems hide in among dull production which fails to excite.
The Motherf**ker with the hat is running at Sherman Cymru until 31st of March. Click here to find out more and to buy tickets.
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