April 12 (Bloomberg) -- Comedian Chris Rock picked a funny, fast-paced play for his Broadway debut: “The Motherf**ker with the Hat.”
The unprintable title is an accurate reflection of the work, since nearly every other word emanating from the mouths of playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis’s five characters is the four-letter synonym for fornication. These dirty talkers are also surprisingly sensitive, largely sympathetic and prone to nutritional fads.
The action begins when former drug dealer Jackie (Bobby Cannavale) returns to the residential hotel room he shares with his cocaine-addicted girlfriend (Elizabeth Rodriguez). As they strip to begin celebrating his new job as an apartment-building porter, Jackie discovers a man’s fedora.
The scoundrel left his hat like “Zorro leaving his ‘Z’ all over the scene of the crime,” Jackie says.
Rock plays Ralph, Jackie’s mentor in a 12-step program. In his apartment with recessed lighting, nutritional supplements and a wife he likens to Benito Mussolini (Annabella Sciorra), Ralph talks Jackie out of shooting the fellow with the hat.
The two visit Jackie’s cousin Julio (Yul Vazquez) to stash the gun Jackie stole from a local thug. A sagacious man in an Adidas warm-up suit, Julio doles out wisdom as he solicits business for his massage, waxing and notary public enterprises.
The clever mix of drama and comedy recalls “August: Osage County,” Tracy Letts’s prize-winning 2007 play, though this one is about half the length and weight.
The two works share the talents of director Anna Shapiro and scenic designer Todd Rosenthal, whose set fills the stage with clever stairs and scaffolding.
A newcomer to theater, Rock deserves credit for aiming high with a complex part that, incidentally, includes onstage wrestling. His performance is funny, if a bit stiff, and will likely get better when he relaxes into the role.
Cannavale, Rodriguez and Vazquez are members of the LAByrinth Theater Company, which developed and co-produced the play. They’re as good as it gets.
At the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.themfwiththehat.com/tickets. Rating: ***1/2
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(Philip Boroff is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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