By Martin F. Kohn
There's an old folk song that begins, "The other night when I got home as drunk as I could be/ I saw a hat on the hat rack where my hat ought to be/ I said to my wife, my pretty little wife/ Explain this thing to me/ What's that hat doing there on the hat rack/ Where my hat ought to be?"
Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis considers that very question in "The Motherfucker With the Hat." There are some minor differences between the song and the situation that launches Guirgis' gritty comedy. Ex-con Jackie is stone cold sober (a condition of his parole) when he comes home bearing flowers, chocolate and a lottery ticket to tell his girlfriend, Veronica, the happy news that he's landed a job. He's about to get even luckier when he notices this hat…
And that's how it all begins. Beginning, too, with this production is the young Detroit theater company called 4TheatrSake, brainchild of brother and sister Sean Rodriguez and Sherina Rodriguez Sharpe. Its current space, a long, shallow meeting room at the Doubletree Hotel in Downtown Detroit, is less than ideal. Happily, Angela Roberts-Johnson's staging is neither long nor shallow, and the acting ranges from adequate to very, very good.
Ostensibly, Jackie's search for the title character drives the action, but Guirgis is more concerned with a different sort of exploration: cravings and addictions, loyalties and betrayals, secrets, self-delusion, human contradictions. "Funny," says Jackie, "how people can be more than one thing."
Indeed. It's especially true of Jackie's AA sponsor, Ralph, who is truly helpful, but is also revealed, in the play's big surprise, to be insidiously damaging. Then there's Jackie's Cousin Julio, a man of gentle ways who harbors a fierce streak.
Guirgis is particularly adept at writing brilliant/crazed long speeches for one character to deliver to another, and everybody gets at least one. His dialogue can crackle, too, with a combination of profanity, insight and sharp observation. His men, at least in this play, are more fully drawn than his women, providing more opportunities for the men in the cast to shine than the women.
As Jackie, Adam Joseph Lopez is a large physical presence who looks menacing but is trying to be a good guy. Lopez embodies those competing forces well and he's a visual contrast to petite Danielle Nader, full of sass as Veronica. There's some looseness in their conversations that should grow taut with more performances.
Dax Anderson is terrific as Ralph, who at various times has to be avuncular, calming, weasely, explosive and self-righteous. Sarah Wilder emanates resentment as his long-suffering wife. Sean Rodriguez, intriguing as Cousin Julio, is all sweetness, even as he taps his violent side.
The people at 4TheatrSake have an ambitious season planned. This production augurs well for it and for them.
'The Motherfucker With the Hat'
at Doubletree Hotel Fort-Shelby, Terrace Level
525 W. Lafayette Blvd., Detroit
8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 21, 28
8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 15, 22, 29