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Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

The Motherfucker with the HatAsolo Conservatory
William S. Oser | Season Schedule


Lawrence James and John Wilson Bennett
Photo by Frank Atura
Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training offers Stephen Adly Guirgis' The Motherfucker with the Hat to open the New Year. The Wall Street Journal ended its review of the Broadway production by saying "Don't let the stupid title put you off. If you do, you'll miss one of the best new plays to come to Broadway in ages." While disagreeing with the idea that the title is stupid (it actually is on target), I agree regarding the quality of the play.

We have five characters, two intertwined couples and the cousin of our sort of hero, all beautifully drawn in shades of gray as opposed to black and white, all emotionally damaged to varying degrees and locked in moral/emotional combat. The play tests each character's moral center and in the end all fail themselves, and some fail others as well. I find these characters or at least our hero sympathetic, as they do not damage themselves exclusively—much of their emotional baggage was foisted on them by others. At one point, Ralph D, our hero Jackie's AA sponsor, explains why his actions regarding Jackie's girlfriend don't or shouldn't matter a wit. It is almost possible to have a serious discussion regarding the right and wrong of his viewpoint, even though I would totally reject his moral compass (or lack thereof) for my own behavior. This is a fascinating play.

Being a contemporary play, the acting requirements are less of a stretch for the young talents of the Asolo Conservatory class of 2019. As reported in multiple reviews of the Broadway production, Bobby Cannavale's performance as Jackie was intense, a panther of the street. John Wilson Bennett lacks the street creds which come naturally to Cannavale, and his, and this director's, take on the character is very different, more a man-child. I find this interpretation more sympathetic than I think I would have found the alternative. Lawrence James is Ralph D, AA sponsor and mentor, further down the recovery path and always ready to proselytize his view of the world of 12 steps. Mr. James doesn't act this part, he seems to live the man.

Sara Linares captures the physical energy of Veronica, Jackie's girlfriend, but the character is not all that easy to love. She flows from one emotional crisis to another without really connecting to what she is doing. DeAnna Wright is Ralph's wife Victoria, battered from years of his philandering ways. Her deep hatred of him is palpable. Matthew Kresch rounds out the cast as Cousin Julio, ready to physically take down anyone foolish enough to get in his way.

Celine Rosenthal draws excellent performances from her student cast. No matter how many times I say it, it is still true that when you see a stage full of fine performances, there is a fine director at work. Scenic design (lighting also) by Chris McVicker is functional, not brilliantly realized. Costume design by Sofia Gonzalez is dazzling in its perfection, exactly right to help define character and place. Patricia DeLorey does her usual exemplary work as voice and dialect coach. The fight choreography by Mark Rose is not as sharp as I think it needs to be for this play.

The Motherfucker with the Hat is an edgy play. It might very well fit the artistic profile of Urbanite Theatre, although I suspect royalty costs and cast size are prohibitive for them. Audiences that usually like their fare are going to love this play and I hope they find their way over to watch these talented future stars of the theater do their thing.

Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training presents The Motherfucker with the Hat through January 21, 2018, at the Cook Theater in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For more information visit www.asolorep.org or call the box office at 941-351-8000.

Cast (in order of appearance):
Veronica: Sara Linares
Jackie: John Wilson Bennett
Ralph D: Lawrence James
Victoria: DeAnna Wright
Cousin Julio: Matthew Kresch


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