By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

Any play where we have to skirt around the title, lest we be accused of publishing obscenity for the masses, you may be excused for looking askance at.  Be that as it may, Actor’s Express is currently offering an explosive version of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ 2011 Broadway hit “The Motherf**ker With the Hat,” running through April 14.

Set in what I think is Spanish Harlem in New York City “The Hat” (that’s safe and short, no?) deals with a small group of people who are actively using drugs, or in Alcoholics Anonymous recovery, or recently relapsed from recovery, or perhaps all three.  The distinctions begin to blur; one begins to question the very notion of recovery—not a good thing if you’re in a recovery program.

Jackie (Randy Cohlmia), recently out of prison for dealing, is trying to stay sober as he sets up housekeeping in a residential hotel with Veronica (Denise Arribas), who is actively using.  The AA dictum to carefully monitor people, places, and things is cheerfully ignored here—not ideal for Jackie.

He discovers in their pad a tell-tale hat and a rumpled bed, neither of which is his.  Is Veronica cheating?  Looks like it.  Does she lie about it?  Probably—but then, so does virtually everyone in this maelstrom of mendacity.

Jackie receives counseling from Ralph D. (Neal A. Ghant), his AA sponsor.  He can certainly talk the talk, but he’s not walking the walk—by a long shot.  His wife Victoria (Stacy Melich) is aware of the duplicity around her but unable and/or unwilling to break free from it.

Cousin Julio (Luis R. Hernandez), who may or may not be gay and may or may not give a rat’s a– (spirit of the play, you see) about Jackie, nevertheless offers his support, willing (and able, he says) to turn himself into Jean Claude Van Damme to ferret out the truth from the smooth-talking Ralph.

Truth—it’s an elusive bird in this group, and “at the bottom of a bottomless well,” as Tennessee Williams once said.

Playwright Guirgis said “If there’s a common thread in my plays, it’s about growing up…and people working on aspects of their adult lives.” I would say that’s putting in mildly, especially in the volatile atmosphere of addiction and pseudo recovery.

“The Hat” offers some dynamite roles for five actors, and Director Freddie Ashley has selected an excellent cast and steered them expertly down some slippery slopes for 95 emotional, gut-wrenching,  and sometimes wildly funny 95 minutes.  Mr. Cohlmia and Ms. Arribas are particularly fine, but so is everyone.

The play has loads of profanity, a touch of nudity, and is definitely not for children.  I must confess I found it also a bit depressing, because even though there’s a smidgeon of hope, most of these people seem stuck in their self-destructive behavior; and honesty (a must for recovery) may be too big a leap for them.  But—while there’s life, there’s hope, as they say…

And they will definitely hold your attention.

For tickets and information, visit www.actorsexpress.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.