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“The Mother F*cker with the Hat” at The Wayward Artist

Updated: Apr 17


From Left: D.X. Machina, Oscar Emmanuel Fabela, Ruben Matos (Photo by Francis Gacad)

Don’t let the title fool you: the show is about people not profanity

by Joel Beers


The title of the Stephen Adly Guirgis caustic comedy that opens Friday at Wayward Artist apparently contains a word so objectionable that many theatres and media outlets can’t even agree on how not to spell it. A few of the ways include:


“The Motherf**cker with the Hat.”“The Mother*ucker  With the Hat.”

 “The Mother---ker With the Hat.”“The Motherf_______With the Hat.”


Of course, the conscious attempt to avoid properly spelling Samuel L. Jackson’s favorite word, which rhymes with brothertruckers, only brings more attention to it. Even if the bowdlerization does keep those overly concerned with such things from seeing the word, they are going to hear it a lot if they see the play. Curses and invective flow from the characters’ mouths like a Tourette’s-addled Nicky Santoro hopped up on bennies (seriously, there are 451 permutations of the F-word in the approximately 100-minute running time of “Mother,'' an average of 4.5 a minute, nearly twice the rate of the film “Casino”).


But Guirgis, who won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2015, isn’t one of America’s most lauded contemporary playwrights based on expletives alone. Nor is it that his plays are blisteringly funny.


It's that he never gives up on his characters. Yes, they are coarse and deeply flawed, grappling with inner turmoil and external forces that are often the consequence of their poor choices, ill-suited to the straight-and-narrow, ex-cons, and criminals from marginalized communities who society at large would dismiss as losers; but as low as they go, there’s always the sense a sliver of hope exists that at least one might find some small measure of redemption through self-discovery, self-acceptance, and reconciling with the past that will change them for the better.

From Left: D.X Machina and Psalms Salazar (Photo by Francis Gacad)

In “Mother,” those characters are five New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent dealing with wounds and masters of self-sabotage. The way the play is set up, it seems obvious that if any change is to come it will relate to sobriety, as four of the five are addicts, and talk of addiction, recovery, sponsors, and the Big Book fill the play.


But as much as this play is about addiction, there’s another word that begins with the letter A that director Michael Martinez Hamilton, who is directing his first play at Wayward three months after being named the new co-artistic director with Sydney Raquel Fitzgerald, uses when asked what he thinks it is about. 


“So much of this play is about authenticity,” Hamilton said. “Characters talk the talk of self-help and self-improvement but they don’t walk the walk. They lack the ability to be totally honest with themselves and without that, without thoroughly examining you can never truly change. You are as (messed) up as before, only you’re not as drunk or high any longer.”


The reason the characters lack that ability, Hamilton said, is that they “also lack the courage to be vulnerable enough to accept who they are. They have a hard time with vulnerability because they are from neighborhoods and have backgrounds where vulnerability is seen as weakness. If you show it you’re attacked not just physically but verbally. You’re perceived as weak and you’re taken advantage of and are seen as easy prey.



“‘Mother” centers on Jackie, recently released from prison after catching time for dealing drugs. He has to maintain sobriety or he’ll violate, but as the play begins, things seem to be going OK, as he has a sponsor in a recovery program and shows up at his longtime love Veronica’s small apartment bearing gifts and gushing about landing a new job and how it’s time he starts making “grown-up” plans with her.


But the joy is short-lived, as after Veronica steps into the shower, Jackie notices a man’s hat on her bed. He immediately jumps to the conclusion she is sleeping with someone else, and his demands spark a confrontation that escalates to Veronica threatening to sodomize Jackie and his dead mother and Jackie threatens to kill her. Both turn to a bottle of vodka, Veronica breaking the end to use as a weapon and Jackie to drink.


Clearly Jackie’s road to sobriety will be a difficult one.


This sets off a sequence of events that pulls in Jackie’s sponsor, Ralph D, a tough-talking ex-con and self-styled nutritional guru who seems to almost believe his own B.S., Ralph’s wife, Victoria, also an addict in recovery who blames Ralph for her disappointment in life; and Jackie’s cousin Julio, a spirited, supportive, street-smart bodybuilder never too far from going into full Van Damme mode as he repeatedly says.


It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, lies, reveals, and lacerating humor. And it’s clear that no one, with the possible exception of Cousin Julio, is who they seem to want to be or who they want people to think they are. That’s due in large part because they’re not honest enough with themselves to examine who they are in the first place.


Jackie, at the very least, seems to recognize the importance of being vulnerable, but he is also in an environment where the people who might care about him the most are also the biggest obstacles in his path. How, or whether, he resolves that is both his and this audience’s journey.


It’s also a journey that Hamilton had no idea he’d be on as 2024 began. At the time he was a friend of several of Wayward’s company members, as he shared a background of studying theatre at Cal State Fullerton. But when he learned that founding artistic director Craig Tyrl was moving to the company’s board and the search was on for a new one, he decided to apply.

From Left: D.X Machina and Psalms Salazar (Photo by Francis Gacad)

In January, he learned that he and Fitzgerald would be co-artistic directors. But the season and directors had already been announced and Hamilton thought his contribution would come by serving as dramaturge. But when the original director had to step away due to personal reasons, all eyes turned to him.


“I guess it was natural that I step up since I was already involved in the show,” Hamilton said.


But though he is an accidental director of sorts, he couldn’t be happier.


“I feel like it was meant to be and I’m filled with a lot of humility and gratitude and a certain amount of fear,” he said. “But we’re in the home stretch now, and my actors have come to trust me, and they know all we really want is to honor this story and to endow the characters with dignity and to share the most authentic story that we possibly can in celebration of Latinidad.”


Fitzgerald, Hamilton’s fellow co-director, was formerly the company’s production manager. She feels the play fits perfectly in the company’s wheelhouse.


“The moral battle that is faced underneath the impulsive jealousy and fighting is what makes this piece Wayward,” she said. “We explore what it means to be lost, naked, and vulnerable; the characters… are desperate to be seen and to be loved deeply despite their internal wounds and self-destruction. Underneath all of that is an added layer of Latinx storytelling. Puerto Ricans struggling with the socio-economic hardship in New York, the home of the American dream, adds stress on top of the internal conflict of how to stay clean. At its core, it is hilariously dark and brutally profound.“


Joel Beers has typed about Orange County theatre longer than he would freely admit. You can visit him at his rarely updated blog, www.fermentedbeers.com.


“The Motherf**ker With the Hat” 

The Wayward Artist

125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, CA

April 12 - 21, 2024

(657) 205-6273, www.thewaywardartist.org

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