Aridhi Anderson is a theatremaker, performer and reviewer based in Melbourne. Check out her work at aridhianderson.com.
Entertaining drama about love, addiction and infidelity
The Motherf**ker With The Hat, presented by Lab Theatre in association with Aleksander Vass and Vass Productions at Alex Theatre, is an intense and highly entertaining drama about love, addiction and infidelity in New York City. It is a thoroughly enjoyable theatrical experience combining a sharp and witty script by Stephen Adly Guirgis, skillful direction by Peter Kalos and powerful performances by a talented cast (Natalia Nespeca, Matt Trubiani, Ryan Stewart, Dennis Manahan and Bianca Clare).
The story revolves around Jackie and Veronica, a dysfunctional couple who have long histories with addiction, each other, and trouble. It also features Jackie's AA sponsor Ralph, and Ralph's wife Victoria, who initially appear to have somewhat sorted lives and are there for Jackie when he needs help, but turn out to have some pretty messy baggage of their own. Then there's Jackie's cousin Julio, who is hard to predict at first, but emerges as one of the most compelling characters both in story and in performance.
The Motherf**ker With The Hat navigates a number of deep emotional and philosophical themes that give it a universal quality despite being set in a very specific context in NYC. Intelligently scripted conversations and masterful characterization come together to explore questions about the nature of relationships, perspectives on love, family, and friendship, infidelity, hypocrisy, manipulation, and forgiveness. The play also delves into religious ideology and worldviews, and the very delicate issue of how to deal with flawed people trying to be better - a tricky area to navigate without being preachy or condoning awful behaviour, but maturely and artistically handled in this play. In both acts, the audience is often given crucial information ahead of key characters within the story, which without giving away what's coming next, helps maintain gentle tension and suspense, and keeps the audience attentive and emotionally invested.
Natalia Nespeca was outstanding in her portrayal of the fiery, stunning Veronica. She shared excellent stage chemistry with all her co-actors, particularly with Matt Trubiani who was commendable as her boyfriend Jackie, the central character in the play: an impulsive, emotional, yet earnest recovering addict on parole. Jackie's detailed interactions with his sponsor Ralph (Dennis Manahan) and his cousin Julio (Ryan Stewart) gave his character far more depth and nuance than the script afforded to Veronica. The other female character, Victoria (Bianca Clare), had even less space to develop, which was a pity. Manahan's portrayal of Ralph was solid, easily earning the audience's confusion, dislike and frustration, as his character deserved. Stewart's Julio was a superlative performance, providing not only excellent comic relief, but also a sense of wholesomeness and balance, which made the play feel complete, despite a slightly weak resolution.
As the title might indicate, there's a lot of strong language in this play. There's also an abundance of sexual references, depiction of drug use, and violence. Every bit of it deserves its place in this story though, and genuinely enriches this fantastic production.