THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
Friday, January 27, 2012
Wall Street Journal raves!
By Terry Teachout
The best new play of 2011 had the worst title, which helps to explain why Stephen Adly Guirgis's "The Motherf**ker With the Hat" (as it was officially billed) barely eked out a 112-performance run on Broadway. Now it belongs to the regional theaters, and GableStage, one of Florida's top companies, has mounted a first-class production that confirms my initial impression of its excellence.
Mr. Guirgis's play is an antiromantic romcom about the effects of the therapeutic culture on a group of substance abusers. It's smart, concise (95 minutes, no intermission) and full of pointed punch lines ("If you ever need money for rehab or an exorcism, let me know"). All five characters are drawn with sympathetic sharpness, meaning that the play must be cast very, very well in order to hit the bull's-eye. Chris Rock, the star of the Broadway production, was new to the stage, and his performance, not surprisingly, was promising but far from great. By contrast, GableStage's Ethan Henry, who has plenty of regional-theater experience, is self-assured and commanding in the same role, that of a slick, sociopathic scamster. Gladys Ramirez shines no less brightly as Veronica, the foul-mouthed working-class babe whose brass-plated charms set Mr. Guirgis's farce-style plot in motion. Elizabeth Rodriguez, who played the part on Broadway, was as hot as a pepper mill but the least little bit too slick to be quite right, whereas Ms. Ramirez comes across much like someone you might meet on the street.
Alex Alvarez, Arturo Fernandez and Betsy Graver are all comparable in quality to their New York counterparts, and Joseph Adler's satisfyingly straightforward staging leaves nothing at all to be desired. Yes, I was thrilled by the play's Broadway premiere, but I'm sure it would have made as lasting an impression had I seen it for the first time at GableStage.