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Stephen Lobo, Francisco Trujillo

Don’t let the title put you off from seeing Haberdashery Theatre’s production of The MotherF**ker with the Hat. Though the characters may have a limited set of vocabulary, their profanity is laced with so much venom and rapid-fire sarcasm that even Shakespeare would be impressed. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis has mastered the naked rawness of NYC street talk with hilarious authenticity. The scabrous dialogue is aptly suited to the harsh subject matter of addiction and restraint. 

The fastidiously timed verbal sparring, delivered by a superbly teamed cast consisting of Stephen Lobo, Kyra Zagorsky, John Cassini, Lori Triolo and Francisco Trujillo, starts as soon as the play opens and never stops for air. 
 
Hat follows Jackie, a dealer and former addict, newly released on parole and eager for a fresh start. He’s formed a close bond with his prison AA sponsor Ralph, who urges a life of tofu, yoga and nutritional shakes. 

Kyra Zagorsky, Stephen Lobo
[Kyra Zagorsky, Stephen Lobo]

Ralph also urges Jackie to leave his cocaine-addicted girlfriend Veronica because she’ll only lead him back into temptation. However, for all his preaching, Ralph has to deal with his own unhappy, alcoholic wife Victoria, who loathes him. After successfully landing a job, Jackie excitedly returns home to Veronica, only to discover a hat-of-unknown-origin in the kitchen. 

Enraged by her seeming infidelity, Jackie turns to Ralph and his cousin Julio for relief and advice. Even though he’s no longer using, Jackie still finds his life spiraling out of control as his substance additions are replaced by rage and jealousy. 

There are plenty of laughs as Ralph doles out 12-step maxims and Julio consoles with spirulina. But like addictions, people’s intentions are often just as complicated and messy. Hat explores the duplicity of its characters while in and out of the influence of drugs. 

Stephen Lobo, John Cassini
[Stephen Lobo, John Cassini]

Each tries his/her best to navigate reality while still grasping onto the tatters of dreams. Betrayal, temptation and control are dominant themes. 

Ultimately, Jackie and Veronica’s unbreakable addiction may be to each other but can there be salvation for their relationship once the true owner of the hat is uncovered? 
 
The intimacy of the Firehall Arts Centre offers an in-your-face immediacy to Lauchlin Johnston’s gritty, graffiti-laded settings. Solid, tense moments reverberate in Veronica’s grumpy Times Square apartment, Ralph’s unkempt brownstone and Julio’s plant-infested Washington Heights flat. Each location is distinctly separated by height, props and Gerald King’s deft lighting.  
 
The cast takes full advantage of each defined space with bold gesticulations and unfettered emotions. Stephen Lobo’s Jackie is never tepid: his character pulsates with fury, anguish or bewilderment. Kyra Zagorsky’s Veronica is a fiery match. The raunchiness of her words mask undertones of helplessness and frustration. 

John Cassini, Lori Triolo
[John Cassini, Lori Triolo]

Although Victoria does not get a lot of stage time, Lori Triolo dominates in this role. 

Victoria’s disappointment in herself, her life and her husband are bitterly palpable as she proclaims that Ralph has “a PhD in manipulation and self-loathing.” John Cassini nails these characteristics as the smarmy smooth-talker with questionable morals. Cousin Julio, as played by Francisco Trujillo, is exuberantly entertaining!   

The most comedic of the characters, Julio, also turns out to be the most moral and may well serve as the anchor that Jackie needs. In a play chockfull of anguished souls trying to escape their cyclic behavior, Trujillo’s slightly over-the-top portrayal was a satisfying delight. 

Director Brian Markinson adds a original touch by using percussionist Eric Banerd to mark scene separations and bring a pause to the breakneck dialogue. His transition into the play imports the outdoors into the setting. In addition, Banerd provides street entertainment before the show begins.
 
Haberdashery Theatre’s inaugural venture does justice to Stephen Adly Guirgis’ superbly penned play. The chemistry amongst the cast and well-executed production are key to this successful and engaging show.

The Motherf**ker with the Hat continues at the Firehall Arts Centre through January 30.

Photos by Emily Cooper.

About Our Contributor Cora Li

Cora Li

Cora dabbles in arts, technology, food, and travel. She loves that Vancouver offers a vast playground for exploring all of her passions. Cora’s most memorable job to date was working with VANOC during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Her next big pursuit will be in the newly-introduced field of forensic linguistics.

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