Left – Michelle Vergara Moore and Adam McConvell. Cover – Christine O'neil and Demetrios Sirilas. Photos – Jodie Hutchinson
Warning: some strong language...
You know they're doing something right when a pair of friends walk out of a show, arguing about what it means to be an adult, which characters we had no respect for, and which deserved our sympathy. There was no arguing that we both enjoyed the show, though we remain confused about its meaning.
Motherf**ker with the Hat introduces five people: four former alcoholics and drug addicts – two fully reformed while the other two teeter on the edge – and one unashamed and unapologetic continued addict. The numerous relationship connections between them are cramped into small apartments and small lives.The action of the play is set into motion when Jackie enters triumphant, having just won a job after recently leaving prison. He is full of hope for a better future for himself and his girlfriend, Veronica. While Veronica showers, he sees the hat, sitting on their table. It's not his hat. He flies into a range and goes in search of his sponsor, Ralph, for help. Ralph has been clean for 15 years and is sponsoring Jackie through AA and guiding the younger man through his own bulletproof methods of personal transformation.
Enter Ralph's bitter wife Victoria and Jackie's weird cousin Julio, and we start to sense that Ralph is not as great as he makes himself out to be, nor is he the man Jackie looks up to.
Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis, the play purports to be about humans' "fragile moral codes and appetite for addiction" and how recovery programs and spiritual rhetoric can be used to justify the most self-serving kinds of behaviour.
Yet the combination of these themes seems to have more to say. As we are trained, we look for a message, a purpose. What is Guirgis really trying to show us through these insights into human nature? While my friend and I enjoy the snappy, fast, wonderfully New Yorker Latino dialogue and the character's interactions, we're left confused.
One of the major points of conflict is Ralph and Jackie's relationship, that of mentor and mentee. Ralph constantly preaches his methods of reforming, of turning your life around and facing up to reality – essentially, becoming an adult. He berates Jackie for his immature approach to life, trying to goad him into acting like an adult. Yet Ralph himself is a less than convincing example. His ideologies cross and merge and contradict, as his machismo bulges until it bursts. He's left deflated and admits "Adult life is nothing like the playground. It largely fucken sucks." The only fall-back he has is that "Nothing really matters"; when all his other rhetoric fails, he reverts to this claim, but it does little to help him. He tries to deflect attention onto Jackie: "Truth is, you're just as fucked up as me." And Jackie is messed-up, with or without Ralph's veneer of adulthood. He tries on the idea of growing up, getting married, taking the next step to security; yet this doesn't help Jackie understand what Veronica really wants and needs. She doesn't seem to know these things herself.
The women are the least developed characters in this play, and are peripheral to the vibrating testosterone of the men's interactions. Ralph's wife is the invisible woman who wants to escape the mess of her life. Christina O'Neill gives us Victoria, whose sense of powerlessness leads to her bitchy, bitter and needy behaviour. It's a hard task to make this shallow character convincing.
Veronica is a tough-talking coke addict who only deals in tough love. Played by Michelle Vergara Moore, she's the least believable character – an amusing stereotype of Latino woman with very little depth. The actresses do their best with the little they're given to work with, and their mastery of the dialogue means they pull it off quite well. The women are simply the sexual objects around which the men revolve. They freely open their legs, proving what the men are really made of. Their only volition is to leave or reject their male counterparts, whose emotions and reactions the play is most occupied with.
The exception to this screwed-up picture of humanity is Julio, the only person who has managed to work out his life, even a bit. He's married to a woman he loves, and he works on their relationship. He learnt that lesson the hard way – he has to give her love and attention, or she'll stray. But he forgives, learns, and moves on. Though he is the comic relief, and supposedly the 'weird' one of the group, he's the only one who has his life on track and seems the slightest bit happy.
Mark Casamento as Julio wonderfully funny in the heavy atmosphere, while at the same time managing to create a coherent, believable character. He is the only character who shows genuine care for those around him, beyond his own instant gratification. In this way, shows he has genuinely recovered from his former addiction.
Demitrios Sirilas as Jackie and Adam Mcconvell as Ralph are strong, consistent and convincing. The plot rests of them, and they drive it with consistent energy and commitment. These are the characters Guirgis has given the most depth, and they tackle it head-on. While still being stereotypes of the Latino male, the characters have great depth which is revealed as the main development of the play. Yet what the play says about humanity – adulthood, addictions and selfishness – I'm not sure. All I could perceive are some blurred shapes in a depressing grey mist. No one gets anywhere – unless it is to further disintegrate. So while at the time we enjoyed the performance, our further reflection on its meaning was fruitless.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
Motherf**ker with the Hat
by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by David Bell
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Dates: 8 June – 7 July, 2012
Times: Wednesday – Saturday, 8pm; Sundays 6.30pm
Matinees: Saturdays at 4pm
Tickets: $20.00 – $39.00 ($15.00 student rush)
Bookings: www.redstitch.net | 03 9533 8083