Whitney Brianna Thomas, Laurence Brown, Steven Lone in The Motherf**ker With the Hat at Cygnet Theatre
  • Whitney Brianna Thomas, Laurence Brown, Steven Lone in The Motherf**ker With the Hat at Cygnet Theatre
  • Image by Ken Jacques
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The Motherf**er with the Hat

It’s a snappy chapeau: reddish with a narrow brim and wide band. The question for Jackie, on parole after 26 months in stir for dealing drugs, is “who’s the motherf--k who owns this motherf--ker?”

Jackie has vowed to set things right. Get clean and sober, and a responsible job, and marry Veronica, his sweetheart since the eighth grade. He could also include anger management.

Trouble is, well one of them, Veronica’s an addict — coke, booze, whatever erases the actual. She wouldn’t recognize a boundary if she banged into one.

Steven Lone, Sandra Ruiz in The Motherf**ker With the Hat at Cygnet Theatre.

Jackie found the hat in her grungy apartment. He left prison with dreams and a code of conduct. But back in Manhattan, he’s Alice through the Looking Glass. Veronica, his AA sponsor Ralph D., Ralph’s wife Victoria, and Jackie’s gay cousin Julio refuse to behave according to plan.

Some of the most interesting plays San Diego’s seen this year are about recovery. Quiara Alegria Hude’s Water by the Spoonful (at the Old Globe) and Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit (the Rep) make recovery a metaphor for these times, be it economic, emotional, or the one day at a time move away from addiction.

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Motherfer with the Hat expands the theme by showing that even when the steps to the process are laid out — and known to be effective — walking them can feel like treading hot coals. People self-sabotage just to cool their feet.

And a Program can only change so much. Radical recovery could mean alterations all down the line.

Since much of the play’s based on surprises, double standards, and reversals — “funny how people can be more than one thing” — I won’t say much more. Guirgis is right about how codes can change, though I disagree with what he says about when true friendship is no longer possible.

Cygnet’s excellent production probably should come with a warning: “here be F- and M-F-bomb ground zero,” since just about every sentence contains one or more. But then again, imagine this quintet not talking that way. As in “oh pish-piddle, have you been making tender, ardent love to my Lady Fair?”

Guirgis has written Jesus Hopped the A-Train and The Little Flower of East Orange. Motherf--er is his most complete play. Five characters interact in full, vivid authenticity. And Cygnet delivers with a crack ensemble cast: Steven Lone goes from “hero to zero” — and maybe back — as Jackie, fighting every step of the way; Laurence Brown’s slick Ralph D. could sell a jalopy to a used car salesman; Sandra Ruiz gives volatile Veronica sheer, in-the-moment unpredictability. Whitney Brianna Thomas’s Victoria is cool and disillusioned, almost. And San Diego-newcomer Esteban Andres Cruz not only throws stereotypes to the wind as Julio, his sharp, funny performance merits many more roles in the future.

As do the efforts of director Rob Lufty. He and the cast make the characters uneasy to judge. They move, they hurt, they rage, they try, they adjust at such a striking clip that labels fall away.

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