If having a provocative title were all it took to be a success, Big Idea Theatre‘s “The Motherf**ker With the Hat” would have to turn away audiences.
It is, in fact, for some shows, but not because of the name. It’s for the uniformly excellent performances by its five-person cast under the super-sharp direction of Katie Rubin.
Superficially, “Hat” is about a recovering alcoholic and recently released from prison drug dealer who suspects (with good reason, it turns out) his girlfriend of infidelity. On a deeper level, it’s about the universal human need to connect, to feel love — and to trust. Sometimes, we succeed; other times, we don’t. And these people don’t.
Stephen Adly Guirgis, who also wrote “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” and “Between Riverside and Crazy,” which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, wrote this play that is equal parts comedy, tenderness and shock therapy.
Brandon Lancaster plays Jackie, the recovering alcoholic who is struggling to stay straight and sober and relying heavily upon his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, Ralph (James Ralph Elison III). Imani Mitchell plays Jackie, the on-and-off-since-eighth-grade girlfriend, who has a cocaine attachment she’s in no hurry to kick, and who sought comfort with another man (or men) during Jackie’s incarceration. Kellie Yvonne Raines is Ralph’s wife Victoria, who knows more about Jackie and Veronica’s difficulties than is at first obvious, and Lee Anthony Williams bravely plays Cousin Julio, an unfortunately stereotypical comic character who has more depth and dependability than the other characters.
The hat — which Jackie discovers left on a table at his apartment when he is released from prison — begins a paranoid and irrational “bender,” not of drinking or drugging, but of anger and aggression.
Lancaster’s performance — profane and violent — is mesmerizing. The “F-word” and the “MF-word” fly throughout the play and violence occasionally punctuates the action.
Director Katie Rubin (perhaps because she is a playwright and actor herself) directs with an uncommon precision. She knows what the play demands and what the cast needs. Blackouts, music and lighting cues are sharp and the words rush like the torrent of emotions they betray.
This is an adult play with adult themes and language, but if you can get past the title and the “F-bombs,” you’ll be richly rewarded. It’s hard to imagine a play more effectively done.
“The Motherf**ker With the Hat” is performed at 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday through Feb. 13. Tickets are $10 on Thursdays, $14-$16 online and $20 at the door on weekends. Some shows are sold out, and some have limited availability. Go to bigideatheatre.org for information and advance-ticket purchases.
Photo: (Left to Right) Brandon Lancaster as Jackie, Lee Anthony Williams as Cousin Julio, and James Ralph Ellison III as Ralph D. Photo by Quinn Ung.