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Director polishes THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT at Road Less Traveled and makes it shine

THE BASICS:  THE MOTHERFUCKER WITH THE HAT, a 2011 play by Stephen Adly Guirgis, ably directed by Victoria Pérez, stars Melinda Carpeles-Rowe, Anthony Alcocer, Greg Howze Jr., Rolando Gómez, and Rosa Fernandez. It opened on March 10 and runs through April 2, Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2:00 at Road Less Traveled Theater, 500 Pearl Street at Tupper. Runtime: over 90 minutes, no intermission. Beer, wine, coffee, and soda-pop available. (629-3069). www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  After serving two years “upstate,” things are looking up for Jackie, who has just landed a job. Returning to his girlfriend Veronica’s apartment to celebrate, he sees a strange hat on the table and immediately suspects infidelity. Things unravel. His smooth-talking AA sponsor, Ralph D., cautions “acceptance” but Jackie will have none of it. Set in present day New York City, through very clever use of NYC subway signs and announcements, we travel between the apartments of Veronica, Ralph D., and Cousin Julio.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:

If I could change one thing, it would be the title of this play. You can’t print it in family newspapers or say it on the radio or television and so it makes publicity difficult. Also, if you don’t know how good the play is, the title makes it sound as if it could be some college sophomoric nose-tweaking lightweight material that tries to get by on shock value. Yes, every conceivable use of the word “fuck” as noun, verb, adverb, and adjective is salted throughout the play. But there is so much more to the characters, the plot, and the philosophies expressed that within a minute or two the word loses its shock value and you easily enter the world of a playwright who truly does revel in the use of language.

The play might not be as good as it is without the sure direction of Victoria Pérez. I am reminded of the famous quote by Charlotte Whitton, (former mayor of Ottawa): “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.” Actually, it is difficult; she just makes it look easy. In a conversation once, Pérez, whose heritage is Puerto Rican, revealed that all her early roles as an actress, for years and years, were as a maid or a janitor, with a mop as her prop. She’s paid her dues, and it’s paid off.

One way we know that her actors respect her is that, on opening night, everyone knew his or her lines. That’s not always the case in Buffalo, but it was here, and it was much appreciated. Another way we know is how these actors inhabited their characters, how “committed” they were to their roles.

In an on-line interview, Anthony Alcocer once talked about finally committing as an actor when he was living in Florida and immersing himself in a role so much that his own mother didn’t recognize him. This cast trusts Pérez enough to do that here.

Last seen as the fretful, muttering, genuflecting “Oliva” in MARIELA IN THE DESERT where she stole a number of scenes, Melinda Carpeles-Rowe does a complete 180 as the sexy spitfire “Veronica” bouncing around the set sniffing coke. Without the program, I would not have recognized her.

Equally physical, and certainly a far cry from his role as one of the two 18th century gossiping gentlemen “Venticelli” in AMADEUS at Kleinhans with the BPO, Anthony Alcocer as “Jackie” shows his range from explosive anger to quiet resolve (“acceptance”?) and keeps his energy and focus for the entire play.  

And, without the bio, I might not have recognized Greg Howze (“Ralph D.”) as Bacchus from Red Thread’s LOUISIANA BACCHAE, although the two roles, as a smooth talking, almost hypnotic Garden of Eden snake, are similar. And, while his role provides a fixed point, sort of, around which the other characters revolve, his performance is anything but fixed. It’s very fluid. This plot is not hard to follow, but it presents a lot of ethical and moral questions, and as most of those are presented by “Ralph D.” we have to believe that he is true to himself, even if his morality seems a bit situational.

And then there is Rolando Martín Gómez. Last seen as the dying, blustery, patriarch José in MARIELA IN THE DESERT, he was almost unrecognizable as the effeminate “Cousin Julio” who loves to cook and has fantasies of morphing into “Van Damme” as a crusader for justice. There has to be comic relief in a one act intense drama such as this, and Gómez is pretty funny.

There has to be comic relief in a one act intense drama such as this, and Gómez is pretty funny.

The problem with Rosa Fernandez’s role as “Victoria,” the long-suffering wife of Ralph D., is that it would be easy to turn it into a one-dimensional cartoon role. But her performance must be nuanced and believable in order to make the play work. She is and it does.

One final round of applause goes to Lynne Koscielniak for her set design (Emilie Powrie, Assistant Set Designer), where one set must serve as three different apartments. The scene changes were fast (Lucas Lloyd, Stage Manager) and were very cleverly announced by illuminating (John Rickus, Light Design) extremely authentic NYC subway stops along with the audio announcement of that stop (34th Street, 42nd Street, and 181st Street) (Katie Menke, Sound Design). They were the authentic announcements, downloaded from the internet. Very clever. This collaborative effort was Broadway quality. Really, really well done.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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