Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Motherfucker with the Hat
Teatro Paraguas
Review by Mark Dunn

Also see Sheridan's review of The Spitfire Grill and Rob's review of Evita


Eibhlin Brennan and Noah G. Simpson
Photo by Cameron Gay
They tell you to not judge a book by its cover—or, let us say, a play by its title. Celebrated New York playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, so the story goes, gave promoters of this 2011 play the mother-of-all-headaches with his problematic title. The play's been around long enough now that most who know it are able to see past its title (which relates to the discovery by protagonist Jackie of a man's hat in his girlfriend's apartment) to find a great play about love, trust and fidelity among marginal New Yorkers for whom sobriety itself can be a daily challenge. If you can get past the raw language (which in its over-application loses its tendency to shock and offend, and settles more into a form of urban patois—sort of like Runyonesque-speak in Guys and Dolls) Guirgis's story can get its hooks into you very early on and never let go.

The play calls itself "a high-octane verbal cage match," and all the expected fireworks get set off very early. Jackie is damaged goods; he's spent time in prison. He's still in the process of trying to piece his broken life back together again with the help of his sponsor, Ralph, and in spite of the fact that his girlfriend Veronica is still a drug user and their relationship a minefield that has to be constantly negotiated. At the end of the day, the play takes a stark look at moral relativism, contrasting "clean and sober" Ralph, whose life is otherwise steeped in repellent nihilism, with Jackie, who, in spite of his stumbles and his struggles and his fly-off-the-handle personality, maintains a moral core that redeems him.

This sharp, well-honed production of the play at Teatro Paraguas may be one of the best productions you'll see in Santa Fe this year. It is served by an expert directorial eye; Rick Vargas paces the show with precision, raising its many inter-character confrontations to the level of riveting theater. He takes time with the monologues as well, allowing the play's characters to open themselves up in ways that feel real and immediate and incredibly engaging.

The Motherfucker with the Hat shines one of its harshest lights on that ancient tug between truth and deception. Characters in the play deceive one another, yet hold to central truths about themselves. This particular cast brings a truth and reality to the characters they play in every moment on the stage. Matthew Montoya's performance as Jackie is so powerful and his portrayal so heartbreakingly empathetic that one is tempted to recheck his bio in the program to see what TV and movies he's lent his acting talents to. It turns out that Montoya is at this point in his career just one damned good stage actor.

Montoya is joined by four other incredibly talented performers. As the doomed Veronica, Madeleine Robb's multi-layered performance is mesmerizing. This reviewer rarely sees an actor with such a strong facility for playing deep subtext. As Ralph, Noah G. Simpson navigates easily through a role that should invite hisses and sneers, but in the end finds in Ralph's amoral apologia something creepily identifiable in us all. Pablo Adrián Ángeles gives us a strong comical performance as Jackie's cousin Julio that belies the fact that this is his first venture onto the stage. Eibhlin Brennan puts flesh on the bones of the somewhat underwritten character of Ralph's wife Victoria, giving her a breadth unfortunately missing from the script.

The design elements work well, shifting the story among three different New York apartments with ease (and blessedly short scene changes).

Teatro Paraguas is one of Santa Fe's theater gems—a small, intimate space which serves as venue for some of the best theatre I've seen in town. And The Motherfucker with the Hat is probably the best production I've seen there—a well-crafted play brought to life by some incredibly good actors under the creative guidance of one of Santa Fe's best directors. Forget the unfortunate title, leave your priggish tendencies at the door, and come enjoy a great show.

The Motherfucker with the Hat, directed by Rick Vargas, is being performed at Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie B, Santa Fe. Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Through April 30, 2017. Info at www.teatroparaguas.org or 505-424-1601. The running time is two hours, including one intermission.


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