Finding Fault at The Kitchen Theatre

Jackie (Vaneik Echeverria) and Veronica (Karina Arroyav) quarrel over the mystery man's hat. Photo: Ed Dittenhoefer The Motherf**ker with the Hat Who The Kitchen Theatre  Where 417 W. State / W. MLK, Jr. St., Ithaca When Through April 28 Tickets $32 Review by Nick DeSantis

It’s always someone else, right?

Somewhere out there, there’s some evil, thoughtless person who’s solely responsible for all of our woes, and if they just happened to suddenly fall off the planet one day, the clouds in the sky will part and the sun’s golden rays will shine on our lives once again.

For Jackie, a recovering alcoholic flawlessly played by Vaneik Echeverria who is engaged in a perpetual struggle to stay on the straight and narrow path, this life-consuming adversary is a faceless individual who lives downstairs in his girlfriend Veronica’s apartment building. In his post-coital haste to escape her apartment, the mystery man made the unenviable mistake of accidentally leaving his fedora on the kitchen table. Upon its discovery, Jackie is puzzled, especially when his girlfriend doesn’t initially fess up to the hat’s dubious origins. But not before long, he regards the stray headwear as nothing less than an act of war. Clearly the hat’s owner has zero respect for Jackie’s post-incarceration goals of being a productive and positive member of society: what a motherfucker.

This unidentified man’s careless action kicks off the endless blame-game that makes up the explosive, foul-mouthed show The Motherfucker With The Hat, currently playing through April 28 at The Kitchen Theatre in Ithaca, N.Y. Full of grit, tension and a deluge of raw emotion, Stephen Guirgis’ play (directed with tenacity by Margarett Perry) about the trials and tribulations of five broken New York City residents is brilliantly performed by an ensemble cast that never lets up on the energy of the show’s kinetic script.

The tone of the show is established right from the opening scene, in which the diminutive Veronica, played with a peppery hostility by the gifted Karina Arroyave, snorts a rail of coke off of her bedpost during a fiery phone conversation with her mother. Her words are her ammunition, with every strong opinion and bombastic phrase lobbed at any given character landing like a cruise missile.

“I’d rather spit on a nun’s cunt than give a motherfucking inch when I’ve been wronged,” she bellows at Jackie during an argument.

She’s not the only one. As one would imagine from a show named The Motherfucker With The Hat, dialogue throughout the show is laced with dynamite. Practically every sentence is laden with obscenities of every color (the show could probably double its grosses if they exchanged the fedora on the kitchen table with a swear jar), and they are used to both underline the drama as well as punctuate the comedy at every turn, particularly throughout David Anzuelo’s simultaneously hilarious and heartfelt performance as Jackie’s effeminate cousin Julio.

Vaneik Echeverria and Dina Ann Comolli in 'The Motherf**ker with the Hat' by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Photo: Ed Dittenhoefer

While characters like Jackie and Veronica flagrantly fly their respective expletive flags high, other characters use obscenity far less casually. Ralph, played with a subtly casual menace by the versatile Brandon Morris, serves as a beacon of hope for Jackie as his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor. He is supposed to serve as a living example of the spoils gained from living a substance-free lifestyle, but the hatred regularly spewed in his direction by his vindictive wife (played with an unhinged desperation by Dina Ann Comolli) instantly sends up red flags signaling that this guy may not exactly live up to his own virtuous standards. Ralph’s character arc gives Morris the perfect playground to showcase his incredible acting range, with his affable subtlety giving way to other facets of his character as the show progresses. Ralph is physically and emotionally imposing in every sense of the word, and every one of his onstage appearances quickly becomes a highlight.

It’s a testament to the performances on display that despite the enormous amount of cussing and scenery chewing, it all never ends up seeming excessive. There’s a realness to the proceedings that was effortlessly accepted by the audience.

In this world, this is how people talk, and there are precious few moments where we feel like we’re actually watching a play instead of listening in on a quarrel from an apartment down the hall. This human factor sells all of the emotion, and The Motherfucker With The Hat delivers a wide range of it in spades. Bellows of laughter from the crowd were followed by stony silences and audible gasps all the way to the show’s final moments, which gave the crowd plenty to talk about as they made their exit from the theater.