There is a very special theatergoing opportunity at Steppenwolf, where Stephen Adly Guirgis’ monumentally enjoyable play “The Motherf**cker with the Hat,” directed by its original Broadway director (Anna D. Shapiro), is now playing through March 3. Unflinching and hysterically funny, this is the kind of play you will be thinking about for quite some time. At first glance, we may think that we have nothing in common with the people in the play, but after a few minutes, we see ourselves in every single character.
Jackie (John Ortiz, playing a role originally written for him), an ex-convict on parole, comes home to the apartment he shares with Veronica (Sandra Delgado) and notices another man’s hat on a table. This event sets things in motion for Jackie as he strives to discover the truth behind his suspicions of Veronica’s infidelity. This leads him to the home of his sponsor, Ralph D (Jimmy Smits), and then to his cousin Julio (Gary Perez). Jackie’s journey leads him to confront subjects such as infidelity, addiction, violence and betrayal. Throughout the play, however, lies Jackie’s inability to really connect with any other person. The closest he comes to real connection is with Ralph D’s wife Victoria (Sandra Marquez), a deeply conflicted, desperately unhappy woman who is determined to change her circumstances. All through the play, we hope for Jackie’s transformation, which all hinges on the final confrontation with Veronica.
Bold and profane, “The Motherf**cker with the Hat” is a triumph for Mr. Guirgis. He crafts his characters beautifully, giving them each a profound revelatory moment. Director Anna D. Shapiro’s expert touch with the material and her actors gives the play an opportunity to sing. Todd Rosenthal’s astonishing scenic design inspires gasps from the audience during the scene transitions.
Every single performance is perfect. John Ortiz’s Jackie beautifully conveys the lost boy who never completely made the transition to adulthood. Sandra Delgado, as Veronica, is a conflicted addict unable to reconcile her feelings for Jackie. Ralph D, as played by Jimmy Smits, is alternately charming and infuriating. Sandra Marquez hits all the right notes as Victoria, a woman who desperately wants to escape from her life, and Gary Perez, as Cousin Julio, has probably the most revealing moment of the play, as he reminisces with Jackie about a profound moment from their childhood.
If funny, edgy theater is your thing, “The Motherf**cker with the Hat” may be the best production of any play you see this year.