Harbinger Theatre’s Newest Production Is Less About The Hat and More About The Motherf**ker!

Harbinger Theatre starts its summer season with Stephen Adly Guirgis‘ Capital Region premiere of  The Motherf**cker With The Hat—an attention-getting title and certainly attention-getting play.  The play debuted on Broadway in 2011 and garnered a great deal of attention: 6 Tony award nominations, including best play.  It took a while to make its way upstate, where the  2015 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama happens to be a State University of New York at Albany graduate. Perhaps its journey took a dozen years until the area was ready for it. 

Victoria Nieves, David Quiñones Jr.
Photos: Jenn Moak Photography

 Set in what may be the Morningside Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, the play is about addiction, deceit, love, friendship, misguided trust, and loss. The predominantly Latino Puerto Rican characters are struggling with life. When I left the theatre, my initial reaction was how does an upper-middle-class older white guy even begin to relate to what I had just seen.  Chatting about it later with someone well versed in theatre, they said to me, lose the accents, change the locale to suburban anywhere, and put the characters in polo pullovers, khaki pants, docksiders, and Lily Pulitzer dresses. These are the same characters that have crossed your path for the better part of your adulthood in one form or another.  Hmmm… a very interesting and accurate assessment!

We all know people with addiction problems, people attempting to get their lives together after a screw-up, and associating with those who will only cause them more pain and heartache. The people they look up to for guidance and support end up being a much bigger part of the problem than the solution, and those with the self-fortitude to try and try again to make it right. There you have it. Without trying to give away too much of the plot or storyline, TMWTH is a play about trying to make things right and not necessarily succeeding the first second, or perhaps the third time, but not giving up on getting to the finish line better than when they began the race despite the obstacles put in their path.

James Alexander, Siobhan Shea
Photos: Jenn Moak Photography

Brian Sheldon has done a wonderful job directing this team of amazingly talented local artisans through their paces. Given the magnitude of the talent on the stage, Sheldon had a great deal to work with. David Quinones Jr. is Jackie, the recently paroled addict attempting to remain on the straight and narrow and get his life back in order. He is on stage almost the entire time and truly carries the cast on his shoulders. His delivery is spot on. His performance is outstanding. Jackie returns to Veronica (Big mistake!), wonderfully played by Shioban Shea, the alcoholic, cocaine-addicted girlfriend who has been cheating on him while he was incarcerated.  

Jackie seeks out Ralph, his sponsor, for support. Mistake number 2! James Alexander handles the range of comedy to drama that is exceptional. Rounding out the cast are Victoria Nieves as Ralph’s wife and Daniel Michael Perez as Julio, Jackie’s cousin. Nieves covers a range of emotions, mostly from disgust to annoyance and being fed up with her situation with an ease that is almost frighteningly real. Julio comes off as the one true voice of reason in this cacophony of screaming, distrust, and lairs.  Perez’s performance as the married to a woman but as flamboyant as if he just walked off the screen from The Birdcage has the best flat line delivery of any comedian on the stage in recent memory.

Siobhan Shea, David Quiñones Jr.
Photos: Jenn Moak Photography

Adam Coons’ set design makes excellent use of the Albany Civic Theater’s stage. The intimate theater space connects the audience into these people’s lives and homes. 

The Motherf**cker With The Hat will have you laughing out loud. The play has some of the funniest dialogue heard in a long time.  At the same time, it will almost bring you to tears and rage. It is, in many ways, a wake-up call to us all. You can’t always take things or people for face value. Sometimes you need to look a little deeper.

James Alexander, David Quiñones Jr.
Photos: Jenn Moak Photography

The show runs for two hours without intermission, so strap in and get comfortable. The play is about 10 to 15 minutes too long, but hang in; some of the best dramatic moments are at the end. It’s definitely not a show for everyone. The language is more than rough. The themes of drug use, addiction, sex, and guns are certainly only for mature audiences. 

My friend was right; however, it does not matter if you wear wife beaters or blazers, high tops, or tassel loafers, you will undoubtedly find this play to be very relatable. 

James Alexander, Daniel Michael Perez
Photos: Jenn Moak Photography

Congratulations to Brian Sheldon for bringing this play to Patrick White at Harbinger and to Harbinger for being willing to bring this to the Capital Region audiences. We have waited long enough for its journey Upstate.

The Motherf**cker With The Hat is currently playing at Albany Civic Theater, 235 Second Ave. in Albany, through June 25. For ticket information: www.eventbrite.com/themotherfkerwiththehat.com

1 Comment
  1. Michael O'Farrell says

    This is a spot on review. Bill Kellert does what an outstanding theater critic does best : highlight the main charcters and supply a brief outline of the play without peppering the piece with plot spoilers. I saw this magnificent production at its preview performance and the audience was spellbound. This superbly written assessment will most likely send me back again ; whether you have already seen it or attending for the first time, Albany Civic’s “The Motherf**ker With The Hat” is unmissable.

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