By Lynn Venhaus
Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis writes for personal spaces the way George Miller directs nitro-fueled “Mad Max” movies: audacious, intense and full-throttle.
R-S Theatrics has produced, for the first time locally, his 2011 play, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” and those not familiar with the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer can dive into the deep end right away.
Words come tumbling fast and furious from two couples in messy chaos, as the action is ignited with casual and complicated fidelity issues. Get ready for an in-your-face locked-and-loaded style of theater that’s bracing and brisk.
It starts out on a good day – former drug dealer Jackie (Adam Flores) is happy, for he’s out of the joint on parole, and has scored a job. Now that he is keeping sober, working the Alcoholics Anonymous program, life seems to be getting better.
But nooooo. Smackdown time arrives because his coke-snorting live-in girlfriend Veronica (Sofia Lidia) has been slyly cheating on him. When he sees a hat that’s not his in their apartment — hence, the play title, Jackie goes ballistic, not buying any denials.
His sponsor, Ralph D. (Aaron Dodd), lends a sympathetic ear. So does Ralph’s agitated and bored wife, Victoria (Taleesha Caturah), as well as his loyal Cousin Julio (Jesse Munoz).
We’re looking at some serial adulterers, then Jackie’s self-destructive tendencies make him his own worst enemy. It gets tangled. Confrontations get ugly. Can the people in his life prevent him from melting down and hurting others or himself? What will happen to his recovery?
Director Carl Overly Jr., in his directorial debut, makes it all matter in the intimate setting of the .Zack. He tries to surmount the venue’s usual sound issues by having the actors as close to the audience as possible, and overall, he succeeds. But the verbal wordplay is heavy.
It’s a very good thing that the actors excel at verbal dexterity, nimbly delivering torrents of anger, disagreements, rage, pleas and excuses. They make sure the performance crackles with energy.
It’s like these streetwise folks are each subject of a depressing country song, so where does any hope come in? Look for it.
For all their flaws, a few characters display a surprising moral center that hovers over how we got to the fractured relationships — all starting with the misplaced haberdashery and cheating hearts.
Fearless Adam Flores easily slips into Jackie’s skin, and carries the motherlode of dialogue without a snag, having numerous heated discussions. Whatever his faults, Jackie is an open book, and loyal to his family and friends. He does some really stupid things, especially under the influence, but people really do care about him.
Flores displays a nice relationship with Jesse Munoz as Cousin Julio, tasked with trying to sooth a savage beast. Munoz is solid as a stand-up guy.
Trying not to be pigeonholed into a hellcat/spitfire stereotype, Sofia Lidia presents an unapologetic woman trying to survive in a stacked-against-her world. She’s raw and real in her scenes with Jackie. They can’t help but be one of those bickering couples whose turbulent relationship binds them in a strange way.
Flores and Aaron Dodd, the gung-ho sponsor touting how clean living is so much better, have a natural give-and-take, so any kind of betrayal is that much more heartbreaking.
Taleesha Caturah showcases some oomph as jaded and sassy Victoria, Ralph D.’s wife who’s really stuck and lonely.
This polished quintet has gotten the vibe right here — they are living these characters. Their work is challenging but they nailed the script pages — and also gave some muscular physicality to the roles.
Because of that authenticity, their work stands out. Without their conviction, this could be a lot of derailed sound and fury. But it’s bold — and daring.
Don’t let the title dissuade you from seeing this. Sure, it’s profanity-laden and features adult themes — and has some shady folks, but the actors keep it real and give us a slice-of-life scenario that just might turn profound in your rearview mirror.
R-S Theatrics presents the regional premiere of “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” Jan. 25 – Feb. 10 at the .Zack, 3224 Locust, in midtown (Grand Arts Center). Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 7 p.m. Tickets are available through MetroTix.com. For more information, visit www.r-stheatrics.com