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The cast of "The Motherf**ker with the Hat": R.J. Zayas (as Julio); Trey Santiago (as Jackie); Precious Johnson (as Victoria); Eric Berger (as Ralph); and Liz Sierra (as Veronica).
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
A front-row view of ‘The Motherf**ker with the Hat’
October 12, 2016Tweet
A little more than 100 audience members will get an up-close-and-personal look at addiction, love and fidelity when “The Mother**ker with the Hat” opens the Theatre Department’s Mainstage Season on Oct. 14.
The show, though, won’t take place in the spacious Watters Theater. Instead, it will be staged in Studio A of the Fine Arts Building, with seating on three sides of the room.
“Our patrons will sometimes be this close,” said director Carol Hanscom, reaching a hand out and touching actress Precious Johnson seated next to her. “It’s going to have tremendous immediacy with the audience and (the show) will gain so much energy and life.”
“People are going to feel our presence,” Johnson said. “It will be intimate.”
“The Hat” will take place at 8 p.m. Oct. 14-15, 19-22 and 2 p.m. Oct. 15, 22-23. Tickets are: $18, general; $16, alumni/faculty/senior/staff; $10 student. Seating for the show is limited and by general admission. There is no intermission in the show.
“At first I expect people to think: ‘I didn’t know (the cast) would be that close!’ Then they will begin to love it,” Hanscom said.
Audience members have found much to love about “The Hat” since it opened on Broadway in 2011. The Stephen Adly Guirgis-written show was nominated for six Tony Awards and starred Emmy award-winning actor Bobby Cannavale and comedian/actor Chris Rock.
For Hanscom, “The Hat” represented the “dark and darker” comedy that she has brought to the Binghamton University stage over the years.
“I was drawn to the play when I first read it,” said Hanscom, an adjunct lecturer who teaches acting in the Theatre Department. “I was wowed instantly by the language of the play. While profane, it is incredibly lyrical and poetic. That excited me.”
The play tells the story of Jackie, a former drug dealer who returns to New York City after being released from prison. He arrives at the apartment of his girlfriend – a cocaine addict named Veronica – when he sees an unfamiliar hat. Suspecting Veronica of infidelity, Jackie seeks support from his drug and parole officer and wife, Ralph and Victoria, and cousin Julio. Jackie then uncovers various truths about all of the people in his life.
Trey Santiago, a junior theatre major from Manhattan, plays Jackie and called the character “passionate, troubled and complicated.” But that’s just one side of Jackie.
“He has a lot of heart and is trustworthy,” Santiago said. “Overall, he’s a fun guy. It’s a little sad for me that he doesn’t get to show how fun he is. You see how fun he is in the first half of the first scene – and for the rest of the play he’s angry and upset! I wish there was a (second) play showing Jackie’s happy life.”
Eric Berger, a senior theatre major from the Bronx, plays Ralph – an “optimistic opportunist.”
“Ralph does some questionable things that are necessary in his life,” Berger said. “They are necessary to his sanity. He has struggled with addiction for a long time. He has struggled with his sponsor’s death. He does things that he shouldn’t do to help ease his pain.”
Pain is also present in Ralph’s wife, Victoria, who is tired of Ralph’s infidelity and is attracted to Jackie.
“She shows her relentlessness even though she has been hurt time and time again,” said Johnson, a sophomore theatre major from Livonia, N.Y., who plays Victoria. “And she is still getting hurt throughout the show. She is relentless in her hope for love. She doesn’t give up at the first sign of trouble.”
Finding the inspiration to portray world-weary, addiction-laden characters can be a challenge for young actors. Santiago stressed the importance of rehearsals for getting inside the character of Jackie.
“We’re rehearsing every day for four hours a day,” he said. “You think of the moment before, the moment after and why we are here. That helps you ‘live through it.’ We know when we hit a scene well. That sparks something and you remember what it was like.”
Santiago also ran into Cannavale (who received a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Jackie) on the streets of Manhattan recently.
“We got to talk about the show, what it’s like to do it, rehearse it” and how exhausting it can be to play someone with Jackie’s intensity on a daily basis, Santiago said.
For Berger, the role of Ralph requires a great deal of imagination.
“You never see my sponsor in the play and there’s no description of him,” Berger said. “But that (death) plays a huge part in my character. You also have to own the words and mean what you say. I say a lot of hurtful things to Trey as Jackie. But I have to own those words for the play to work.”
Of course, many of the words from Ralph, Jackie and the others are so profane that the production is not suitable for young audiences. But other words are essential to understanding the characters, their actions and inactions.
“Things that are said in passing end up being key backgrounds for these characters,” Berger said. “This show has little explanation about the characters’ pasts. There are things said that justify some of the awful things that these characters do.”
While Hanscom said she hopes the audience members leave Studio A having enjoyed the emotional roller-coaster ride, she also would like them to examine a serious message from the dark comedy.
“I want them to think about their own relationships and how they can take actions to make them better at any time,” she said. “Not everyone does it in the play, but you think about it afterward.”