The SpeakEasy Stage Company is off to a roaring start! Obscene? Most definitely. Three legged kittens, mothers, the deity herself –no one escapes unscathed. There’s even mention of oral sex at Appleby’s. But I was moved, and glued–first scene to last– to this “street smart comedy” about deeply flawed people and their bruising struggles to survive– humanity intact. That there was wisdom, heart, and humor to spare, eased my soul. Perhaps it wasn’t the most appropriate show to see on Yom Kippur the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, but for this gentile it was a damn good experience, and it spoke volumes about atonement.
This 2011 Tony nominee for Best Play by Stephen Adly Guirgis careens through nine explosive scenes without intermission. The play is cleverly constructed, each scene with a dramatic arc all its own within the larger story of five characters whose lives and troubles intersect. First there’s Veronica and Jackie–two substance abusers in a volatile relationship, on the mend– UNTIL Jackie suddenly discovers a hat– that’s not his– on a chair in the apartment, and accuses Veronica of infidelity. The hat is more than an absurdist device; it ignites a sh*tstorm. She spews a geyser of expletives, while he melts down and heads out in search of a gun. Evelyn Howe is totally hot as Veronica, a coke head with a temper as unruly as her hair. Jaime Carrillo as Jackie is raw with rage and desire.
Jackie turns to his 12 step sponsor Ralph D for help; Maurice Emmanuel Parent gives a fiery performance, part preacher, part con man. His wife Victoria, the lovely Melinda Lopez, is laid back at first, then subtly brings her own complex past and motives into focus. Finally, major comic relief arrives in the form of Jackie’s effeminate Cousin Julio who loves to cook health food, adores Jackie, and loves life– no matter what’s thrown at him. He even throws back—but not too hard. Alejandro Simoes is really funny and sweet in the part.
During each scene change, Latin music is cranked up, while the cast quickly reassembles the same few tables and chairs to evoke their meager NYC apartments. The sets are bare bones–and that’s exactly where the playwright, David R. Gammons smart direction, and these visceral performances take us –right down to the nitty gritty of these characters scraped bare before us, no defenses, in clear view of themselves and each other. After all the mind games, rationalizations, screaming and yelling, drugs, sex, and alcohol, recovery comes down to this simple, difficult truth: “In order to change– you got to change.” And while you’re at it, “Leave the gun–take the empanadas.”
Don’t miss “THE MOTHERF**KER WITH THE HAT” at The SpeakEasy Stage Company through October 13!