“Why are you going to see that?” asked a nonplussed Andrew when Phil mentioned he was off to see The Motherf**ker with the Hat.
“I’d heard of it. They did it on the Broadway with somebody famous” was Phil’s rather lame response.
Anyhoo, Phil did a little research, found out the star name he couldn’t remember was Chris Rock and then discovered that the National’s version featured Ricardo Chavira who was Carlos Solis in Desperate Housewives (Mr Eva Longoria in the show, for the uninitiated) and someone from Broadway recreating their Tony-nominated performance.
With Phil’s interest sufficiently piqued he then found himself on the horns of a dilemma. Would he throw caution to the wind and do The Full Shenton, putting the title in without the asterisks or go down the TFL advertising route and blank out the offending word entirely. Rather cowardly he opted for he National’s poster/programme/cast list version. He has Andrew to consider don’t ya know.
Stephen Adly Guirgis‘ (who won the Pulitzer for Between Riverside and Crazy) play doesn’t keep its bad language just for the title. It’s a gloriously potty-mouthed play throughout. But the dialogue is so natural, rich, smart and frequently hilarious most won’t be offended. Unless you’re a nun. Phil is still blushing at one particularly shockingly ripe line concerning a nun which will be etched in his memory forever. There’s a couple of captioned performances coming up (11th and 19th August). How hilarious would that be?
Chavira plays Jackie, recently out of jail and trying to stay clean with the help of his sponsor Ralph (Alec Newman). He’s got a job to impress his long-term girlfriend Veronica (Flor De Liz Perez) and things are looking good. That is until he discovers a hat in her apartment that suggests she may have been putting something inside her other than cocaine.
Ralph persuades Jackie to keep calm but it’s not easy. A chain of deceptions and infidelities follows as the hugely engaging story unfolds with enough surprising reveals (one elicited a gasp from the audience) for a hugely satisfying interval-free 1 hour and 50 minutes.
The New York locations are beautifully realised by Robert Jones. Even watching the sets change against a jet black background under floating, shifting fire escapes adds to the pleasures. Three of the cast are American though it’s hard to spot which two of the cast aren’t as their performances are so convincing.
You shouldn’t really like the characters, their actions are pretty reprehensible, but the fact that you care is a tribute to Guirgis and the cast’s splendid performances. Chavira is something of a revelation and gets you onside with his character pretty swiftly. Nathalie Armin as Ralph’s wife and Yul Vázquez complete the line up. Though the latter, as Jackie’s gay cousin with a penchant for dayglow health drinks, does tend to walk off with every scene he appears in (two of his exits were applauded). No surprise he earned a Tony nod for his efforts.
Plus their vocal projection is excellent. Good for director Indhu Rubasingham in ensuring that every word is crystal clear. Some of the cast of The Elephant Man should pop by and watch how it can be done.
It’s surprisingly moving at the end without descending into mawkishness, but what’s most impressive is that the play switches between extremely dramatic moments and laugh-out-loud hilarity in a breath. A brawl (fight director Kev McCurdy) manages to insert a camp sight gag (we mustn’t spoil the joke, but it’s something Phil would probably do in the unlikely event he found himself grappling on the floor with another man) without losing the flow of the shockingly convincing violence.
The Americans could try and look a little less grumpy at the curtain call. We don’t give out standing ovations willy-nilly over here. Though to be fair, they probably deserved one for this.
F**king splendid stuff. Though we might warn you against arranging a group outing for your local convent.
Phil’s in a bit of a quandary about the rating for this one; for him it hovers between a 4 and a 5, but since he’s had a bit of a downer on the National since Mr Norris took over…