Bittersweet ‘The Motherf**ker with the Hat’ opens at Cygnet
By Diana SaengerCygnet Theatre in Old Town claims “The Motherfker with the Hat” by Stephen Adly Guirgis — their last play of Season 11 — is also their most hilarious and provocative. Directing the San Diego premiere is Rob Lutfy, the 2012-13 William R. Kenan, Jr. Directing Fellow at The John F. Kennedy Center.
The play premiered on Broadway in 2011 with a host of stars in the cast, and has been nominated for several Tony awards. Moving the play out to theaters across the country, directors have had challenges, considering its foul-language and tough talk about alcoholism.
“This is not a Julia Roberts comedy for sure,” Lutfy said. “It’s a real human story about love and how, sometimes, we’re addicted to something that’s not good for us, and that includes the people in our lives. If you can get over the title and profanity, you’ll probably never see a funnier tragedy.
“Guirgis writes with a great compassion and has an original take on ‘class’ — (some) people are virtually invisible to the white-collar world. I love that about this play.”
The story deals with broken promises and examines acceptance, loyalty and love. Jackie (Steven Lone) and Veronica (Sandra Ruiz) were sweethearts in eighth grade, and although they are still in love, barriers stand in their way to happiness.
“Guirgis explains that it’s about growing up and accepting responsibility,” Lutfy said. “Jackie is going through the 12 Steps of Recovery … and the Serenity Prayer … knowing the difference of things that can change and those that cannot. I tell the actors this play is about the wisdom to know the difference, and Jackie is learning what he can do to change his life.”
Casting a serious drama with ongoing hilarity is not an easy task, so Cygnet’s Artistic Director Sean Murray and Lutfy worked together to find the right actors.
“It is hard to teach an actor to be funny,” Lutfy said. “There are techniques for cracking jokes, but when looking for an actor who knows how to find the positive in roles that are very negative — like with these characters — we needed actors who know the good, who know what makes their characters lovable and who can hook into the comedy naturally and make it happen. Once you lock into Guirgis’ rhythm you can easily ride it.”
Murray suggested, “Robby is that rare form of director who gets the whole picture. He’s both visionary and truth-finder, and he speaks to actors with understanding and humility, always guiding, always searching and never settling.”
Lutfy added, “I think theatre is meant to engage the mind, provoke thoughts, and confront us with things. This is a love story and these characters want the kind of love we see in movies, but they can’t see that it’s right out of reach because they are up to their necks in something they can’t escape. They desperately need to avoid each other.
“What I like about this play is that it’s trying to put pieces together to figure out the story.”