By Shane M. Dallmann
I had considered simply posting the uncensored title of the play by Stephen Adly Guirgis in my header in the spirit of “as if you didn’t know,” but basic propriety eventually convinced me to quote it exactly as it appears on the Paper Wing program.
One of the first Paper Wing shows I saw was BILL W. AND DR. BOB, based on the true story of the formation of Alcoholics Anonymous. While the play was certainly a straightforward drama, many of the scenes involving the behavior of addicts, enablers and dependents coaxed laughter from the audience. And I knew what sort of audience I was sharing the show with when a young girl in front of me laughed heartily… and the woman accompanying her (mother? aunt? I really don’t know…) nodded at her, smiled and said “Yes… that’s how we are!”
If the laughter directed at BILL W. was slightly on the “appalled” side, that show nevertheless remained family-appropriate and ultimately uplifting–that laughter was nothing compared to the reaction this newest Paper Wing production is sure to provoke. THE MOTHERF**CKER WITH THE HAT digs even deeper into the truth of “addictive” behavior, denial and reality while wringing every bit of shocked, gasping laughter it can out of its unsuspecting audience.
As the play opens, we meet the coke-sniffing, verbally abrasive Veronica (Melissa Kamnikar) as she awaits the arrival of her live-in boyfriend Jackie (Timothy Samaniego). We’re allowed to think that Veronica is “the one with the problem” for a while when Jackie shows up with flowers, a good new job and plans for a wonderful night on the town with his mamacita. Only gradually do terms like “drinking” and “parole officer” begin to sink in… and then Jackie sees the hat (which, of course, isn’t his), and it’s the end of civilization.
Jackie’s response to a stranger’s hat in his girlfriend’s apartment quickly involves three more characters. First up is Jackie’s own A.A. sponsor Ralph (Drew Davis-Wheeler), who offers straight talk, sound advice and tough love and who seems to be an ideal role model who has it all together… except, perhaps, for the utter contempt heaped on Ralph by his wife Victoria (Amanda Platsis), introduced as a strident, off-stage voice but soon given equal attention as another vulnerable (and outspokenly honest) player. And the only other person Jackie can trust is his cousin Julio (Jesse Juarez III), who makes no bones about what he personally thinks of Jackie but who will never break the bond of familia. And he, too, has had experience with an addiction of his own, but that’s all behind him now (no pun intended, of course).
To relate the details of the plot would be simultaneously unfair and pointless, because it’s not so much what actually happens as how Jackie is going to respond to it. He has a choice of two male examples; neither of whom is a “perfect person,” but both of whom, at least, know exactly who they are and why they do what they do… and probably know Jackie more than he’d care to admit. And now he has two women in his life… one’s honest with him, one’s not, and he already knows which one is which. But how to respond… how to respond…? The results are always provocative (the harsh, colorful language includes many a doozy for those who think they’ve heard it all–including an invocation of Godzilla that never crossed my mind in over forty years of fandom; and the brief but startling nudity is anything but gratuitous) and frequently hilarious… even though none of the action is actually funny at all, when you think about it. And think you will.
The cast (under the direction of Koly McBride) coincidentally lines up three Paper Wing veterans in the male roles alongside two female newcomers. The love/hate/trust/doubt sponsorship relationship between Jackie and Ralph is especially effective as played by Samaniego and Davis-Wheeler… when they agree on something, their banter and camaraderie is convincing to the point where one just wishes they could stay on those terms even as one realizes that it can’t happen. To steal scenes from either of these completely believable characters would seem to be impossible… but Juarez does just that as Julio, whose mariconcito exterior and fey mannerisms can’t completely suppress his muy macho heart… Van Damme is there when you need him, and this performance transcends mere “comic relief” to the point where it earns extra-loud cheers and applause from the audience.
Not that anybody in the cast deserved any less: Kamnikar made a bold and indelible first impression as the alternately sweet-natured and explosively profane Veronica; and Platsis is equally effective when she deliberately stirs the pot while managing to deflect any personal responsibility for her revelations to Jackie (and when one realizes what she’s up against herself, one can even understand her).
And no review of this production would be complete without paying special attention to the set (the work of L.J. Brewer and Jody Gilmore)… the abodes of Veronica and Ralph are at opposite ends of the stage, while the midsection transforms during blackouts from an ugly industrial wall into Cousin Julio’s dwelling in what seems like no time at all… as personally familiar as I am with this particular stage, I am still trying to figure out how they managed to FIT everything there simultaneously!
THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT, therefore, succeeds on every level. And as I often say, if you believe that I would say something like that strictly because I have friends involved in it, then please don’t bother to read my reviews in the first place. See this show for yourself and you’ll know EXACTLY why I said it.
Plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM through September 28th. Visit http://www.paperwing.com for details.