Hat's Off to you, [email protected]!ker!

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[Theater]

The [email protected]!ker With The Hat is as daring, vulgar, mind-boggling, brilliant and witty as its title!

From the opening scene, the audience is invited into a world of love, drugs and the schizophrenic concoction of emotions that arise once the two are mixed. Reckless Abandon is advised.

On the surface it’s easy to pigeon-hole the play as mere comedic entertainment and get sidetracked by lofty monologues laden with clever catch phrases and zinger one-liners that both make you cringe and tear with laughter, as you ponder to yourself --and sometimes to your neighbor-- “who thinks like this?!” Clearly, the twistedly humorous mind of writer, Stephen Adly Guirgis. However, don’t be fooled. While the play is ridiculously hilarious, it’s equally profoundly deep in a “Men Are From Mars; Women Are From Venus” type of way.

The story focuses around an ex-dealer and addict, Jackie, played magnificently by Bobby Cannavale, returning home from a prison stint and trying to make something worthwhile of himself and a future with his neurotically functioning crack-feigned girlfriend, Veronica (Elizabeth Rodriguez). In his quest to remain sober, Jackie enlists in a 12-step program and is kept on track by his straight-shooting, smooth-talking, 15-year sober sponsor and best friend, Ralph, masterfully played by stand-up comic Chris Rock.

Amidst bong hits, gun-totting, insults fired more rapidly than the shots that killed Osama, and an endless contradiction of characters, a beautifully woven web of the complexities of human nature emerges. What you see is often not always what you get amongst the cast of “Hat.”

While Ralph has mastered sobriety, he seems to have compartmentalized that aspect of his life as the gold standard, leaving all other aspects suspect to his insanely flawed, but surprisingly understandably believable --if only to himself-- theories. While the fast-talking and ballsy Veronica matches, and at times surpasses, the testosterone infused battles with her male counterparts, there exists great vulnerability and even tenderness in the tough choices her character must make.

Even characters only talked about in the play have split personalities far different from their exterior persona. By far, the most delightful character in this real-life telanovela is the undercover-gay --the world may never know-- yet married, Cousin Julio, played by Yul Vazquez. His uncanny wit and die-hard devotion to Jackie’s deceased mother (even if it means the unlikely, but entertaining possibility of channeling the aura of Van Dam to protect her son) provides countless moments of genius comedic timing and reinforces the tricky, yet unbreakable bond of family.

The least convincing character in the carefully selected cast would have to be that of Victoria, portrayed by acclaimed TV actress, Annabella Sciorra, who makes her Broadway Debut with “Hat.” As the faceless voice from the kitchen, her character is edgy and fed up with her marriage to Ralph. However, the moments where plot-changing information is revealed, her performance falls short and teeters on the verge of being whiney rather than seductive and elusive rather than tormented.

If the plot and characters don’t captivate you, the Optimus Prime-esque set, designed by Todd Rosenthal, that transforms majestically into three revolving scenes will leave you as spellbound as a six-year old at Disneyland seeing Mickey live.

For anyone who’s ever had a best friend, who’s ever suffered loss, experienced betrayal, wondered how they inherited certain family members, battled with any type of addiction, or fought to accurately express the intricate set of emotions felt at any given time…The [email protected]!ker With The Hat is one [email protected]!king play that you simply must [email protected]!king see! (Sorry, couldn’t resist. The [email protected]!king play made me do it!)

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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