Review: The Motherfucker with the Hat (Bob Kills Theatre/Coal Mine Theatre)

MOFO-Sergio Di Zio

Toronto’s Coal Mine Theatre presents The Motherfucker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis

Every so often the theatre gods smile down on our town and we come across a production that combines the right script with the right cast in the right space and the result is electrifying. Bob Kills Theatre’s production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ profane, profound and uproariously funny play The Motherfucker with the Hat is one of those times.

Jackie (Sergio Di Zio) is a recovering addict on parole who lives with his fiery girlfriend Veronica (Melissa D’Agostino) who is still an active user. An elated Jackie comes home after finally securing a job and starts getting intimate with Veronica when he spots a strange man’s hat on the table and spirals into a jealous rage. He leaves and seeks the help of his AA sobriety coach Ralph D. (Ted Dykstra) but the health-obsessed, yoga-practicing, green-smoothie drinking Ralph may not be all he’s cracked up to be.

The Motherfucker with the Hat debuted on Broadway in 2011 starring Bobby Cannavale and comedian Chris Rock and was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Play. It has since been staged by regional theatre companies across the continent including at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre where I saw it in 2012 with Jimmy Smits and John Ortiz in the lead roles.

The Toronto production takes a more low-key approach; the Danforth definitely isn’t Broadway. Nestled in the basement of a Magic Oven pizza restaurant on the Greek Town drag, this production is staged in the newly re-christened storefront theatre venue dubbed The Coal Mine.

Director Layne Coleman has chosen to present the play in-the-round and an apartment set takes up nearly all the floor space in the small, downstairs venue allowing for only two rows of seats around the four sides of the room.

I thought this decidedly smaller staging worked brilliantly; the proximity to the performance allows the audience to connect to the characters intimately and when things get heated on stage, like during the confrontation between Jackie and Veronica or the intensely physical showdown between Jackie and Ralph, the tension is palpable and the room feels like a pressure cooker.

The intimate setting also allows us to focus on Guirgis’ sharp, finely-tuned writing. Simply put, the script doesn’t need the trappings of a big production or big name celebrity draws. It’s a brilliant exploration of the complex realm of moral relativity with densely-packed, rapid-fire dialogue that often leaves the audience laughing out loud.

The script is elevated by director Layne Coleman’s impeccable pacing and the consistently strong performances from the ensemble.

Sergio Di Zio gives us a nuanced portrayal of the deeply-flawed yet sympathetic Jackie. Ted Dykstra’s Ralph D. might be a touch too smarmy, I think it may have been more effective to gradually reveal the character’s smarminess rather than making him so instantly unlikeable.

Juan Chioron is a definite highlight as Jackie’s effete cousin Julio. While I thought he strayed dangerously close to caricature at times with the sassy delivery of Cousin Julio’s lines he was able to make his character the emotional centre of the story while stealing every scene he appears in.

While small in scale, this production of The Motherfucker with the Hat packs a powerful punch and is an electrifying evening of theatre. I often found myself leaning forward, completely engrossed in the show. Seating is limited so get your tickets now.

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Photo of Sergio Di Zio, Juan Chioran, and Ted Dykstra by Matt Campagna.

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