by Lynn on November 12, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre (formerly the Downstage) 798 Danforth Ave. at Pape.

Written by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by Layne Coleman
Set and Lighting by Steve Lucas
Costumes by Jenna McCutchen
Sound by Creighton Doane
Starring: Juan Chioran
Melissa D’Agostino
Sergio De Zio
Ted Dykstra
Nicole Stamp

Raw, dangerous, funny and goes like the wind.

The Story. Jackie is a happy man. He got out of prison recently and just found a job. He goes home to his girlfriend Veronica to tell her the good news. They are pumped with euphoria and eager to jump into bed to celebrate. Veronica is already pumped since she’s addicted to sniffing lines of cocaine off her side table.

While Veronica gets into something more comfortable in the bathroom Jackie lounges on the bed waiting for her. He sees something odd—a man’s hat over there on the kitchen table. He jumps out of bed to take a closer look. The hat isn’t his. He is furious. He smells the pillow case and the sheets on the bed because his suspicions are on high alert. Some other guy was there and he puts Veronica through the third degree to find out who is the motherf**cker who owns the hat. She lies. She says it really belongs to the guy downstairs. Jackie does not quite believe this. Veronica gives him an earful of invective defending herself. He replies in language equally as colourful.

Jackie leaves in a fury to find solace with his AA sponsor, Ralph. Ralph was an alcoholic who has been sober 15 years. He turned his life around years before and now wants to help others do the same thing. He prays several times a day. He wants Jackie to do the same. Ralph says that Veronica with her addictions is a bad influence on Jackie. Jackie has to be clean while on parole. Ralph drinks healthy drinks and eats good food. Ralph suggests that Jackie stay with him and his wife Victoria for a few days until Veronica calms down, and Jackie gets back on the straight and narrow. Jackie still is desperate to know who the motherf**ker with the hat is. So are we.

The Production. In Steve Lucas’s set the audience sits on all sides of the square room. The front door to the apartment is the actual entrance to the performing space. Close to that door is a glass top round table and chairs. The table is almost clutter-free except for a man’s hat. Across from the glass table is a small couch with a table and lamp near it. Up at the back is a double bed with a small side table beside it. And behind that is a door leading to the bathroom and other rooms.

We meet Veronica first. She is on the phone with her mother while she (Veronica) makes the bed. Her mother has a lousy boyfriend and addictions. Veronica tries to offer support. Her language is tough, raw, scatological and irreverent. Her words come out in a machine gun rattle, fast, furious, lethal.

As Veronica, Melissa D’Agostino is fierce, smoldering, sensually aggressive, and intimidating. If ever there was a character capable of scratching someone’s eyes out, D’Agostino’s Veronica is it.

When Jackie enters by the front door he is popping with energy. He comes bearing flowers, concert tickets and a joy ready to celebrate with a good romp in bed with Veronica. Until he notices the hat. Then he goes ballistic. Watching him angrily question Veronica about the hat and she replying just as angrily, is like watching two street fighters go at it verbally without the violence. But we don’t doubt violence can be close.
For all his flaws, Jackie has a moral compass.

Sergio Di Zio’s performance as Jackie is emotionally charged, aggressive, angry and so fragile and touching he leaves you breathless when you least expect it.

Jackie’s sponsor Ralph is also street smart, but he has a caginess that is impressive. Ralph has seen it all. He lives a kind of double life and makes no excuses for it. When he is explaining to Jackie what he has done behind his back, you realize that Ralph is such a smooth operator he can convince some people that BS is fois gras.

As Ralph, Ted Dykstra creates a character with boyish, rough-around-the-edges charm. He does not shout except when really pushed. And when he wants to sting with a word, he is masterful.

Julio, Jackie’s cousin, is a voice of reason. He’s had his demons. He was bullied when he was younger because he was considered effeminate. Jackie was one of the people, when younger, who did not treat him well. Now Julio has gotten his life in order; is married; devoted to his family and helping Jackie and not afraid to suggest that he can fight his way out of a situation.

Juan Chioran’s performance as Julio is a dazzle of nuance, subtle body language and beautifully timed barbs—with nary a f**k you in evidence. This is not to say that he doesn’t ‘rise’ to the occasional ‘f**k you with the best of them, he does and his use of that language is so startling it catches you unawares, and leaves you laughing.

Director Layne Coleman has directed this production so that it is popping with energy. The relationships are clearly defined and established. There is a fierceness and urgency to the whole enterprise. Nothing is held back and that’s what makes the production and its world dangerous. It is also, believe it, hilarious.

A quibble. The production depends on Jackie finding the hat to get it all rolling. So I find it odd that Layne Coleman has decided to put the all-important hat on the kitchen table visible right when Jackie arrives and has to pass by the table to enter the room. In his excitement Jackie puts something on the table yet doesn’t notice the hat. He is close to the table in that first scene, yet doesn’t notice the hat. Only when he goes waaaay across the room, lies on the bed and looks to his right does he see the hat over there on the table. Hmmm. That placement doesn’t quite make sense. That is my only eye-brow-knitting quibble.

For the rest, Coleman keeps the energy soaring for those characters who wouldn’t know a calm moment if they tried. The pace leaves you breathless and every joke hits the bull’s eye.

Comment. Playwright, Stephen Adly Guirgis is a provocative playwright. His characters live on the margins of society. Their code of behaviour and ethics is on the dark side of ‘scuzzy.’ They would be called amoral. They are flawed but expect forgiveness and redemption for despicable behaviour. They are confined and defined by their language. How they string their various combinations of swearwords and slang is dazzling. In my most private moments I wish I was that linguistically inventive and glib, but then think better of it. These are people who live by their wits not their intellect.

We all spend time in the theatre with people we wouldn’t generally spend time with in our real lives. We willingly keep company with murderers, bullies, racists, sexual harassers, pedophiles, anti-Semites, anti-gays, anti-blacks, narcissist, scumbags, and low-life goofballs just for starters. And that’s just in Shakespeare. They are all part of the world we live in and theatre gives us a glimpse into it. We don’t have to stay in that world, but it’s important to know what goes on there.

The Motherf**ker With The Hat
gives us one of those glimpses. Layne Coleman’s production and his sterling cast deserve every bravo they get.

The Coal Mine Theatre is a new configuration of the former Downstage. The Artistic Curator is Ted Dykstra and the Artistic Producer is Diana Bentley. The Coal Mine intends to do a season of challenging, thought provoking works. Besides The Motherf**ker With The Hat they also plan a production of Bull by Mike Bartlett and Creditors by August Strindberg for the spring. I can hardly wait.

Bob Kills Theatre produceed and The Coal Mine presented The Motherf**ker With The Hat.

Opened: Nov. 11, 2014
Closes: Nov. 30, 2014
Cast: 5; 3 men, 2 women
Running Time: 90 minutes.

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