Earlier this year, Lauren-Reilly Eliot Co. took on the New Testament reimagined in “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.” And while “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” may seem an unlikely successor, both contain characters desperately in need of forgiveness.
Hell can be within and without, as well as of our own making.
First staged on Broadway in 2011 with Chris Rock and nominated for six Tony awards including best play, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” is a dark comedy detailing the less-than-heroic homecoming of former drug dealer Jackie, lately released from prison, although the “outside” proves just as caged as the inside.
“Stephen Adly Guirgis is the most important playwright of our generation; he’s our Edward Albee,” LRE co-founder Cooper Helm said. “You can’t exclude marginal people or censor that whole cultural aspect. Jesus didn’t just come for the righteous, he came for the riffraff.
“This play is a voice for the oppressed and that’s very important. Guirgis is writing the way people talk. It’s not always a pretty picture.”
Consider the play rated R for raw, but make no mistake, the characters at this low point in their even lower lives are indecently funny.
Skip Woods takes on the role of AA counselor and recovering addict Ralph D. with Andre Trahan as Jackie, whose fervent wish is to reunite with longtime girlfriend Veronica, only to find evidence in the form of a fedora that she’s been unfaithful during his absence. Sideswiped by his sudden realizations, Jackie’s is the anger of men who are not who they wanted to be.
“I met him (Woods) just one time and knew this was Ralph D.,” Helm said. “This guy is the prototype for this role.”
Woods has a Hollywood voice and easygoing, barroom demeanor that renders his fight scene particularly plausible.
“I’m working with some giants,” Woods said. “Everyone has to step up their game.”
Angela Thomas, the unabashedly frank St. Monica from Judas Iscariot, plays Ralph D.’s wife, Victoria.
“The women are a big part of the drama, but they’re more caught up in the cycle of men. Victoria’s in recovery but chooses to stay with a man who continually cheats. Victoria’s in a place I would never allow myself to get in,” she said.
Trahan played Judas in his last Guirgis play and is on the other end of betrayal this time.
“I relate to Jackie,” he said. “Despite his front, he’s a kid at heart and doesn’t want to be an adult. He just wants to fall back on the drugs. Something worth noting is he has a number of addictions, but his main addiction is her (Veronica).”
Helm says LRE often chooses their projects on the fly, but after he saw the play performed in Baton Rouge, he wanted to do it.
“We’re very happy we chose this author and the minute ‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ becomes available, we’re doing it, too,” he said. “That’s how much we value his writing.”
Guirgis won the 2015 Pulitzer for Drama for “Between Riverside and Crazy,” a drama about race, politics, the police and real estate.
But whereas Judas Iscariot dealt with Christian theological beliefs, “Motherf**ker” is all about moral relativism: that right and wrong are culturally based and subject to personal choice. As Ralph D. says, “It doesn’t matter — if it feels good, who cares? Who should have to live by some stupid rules? At the end of it all, we’re gonna die.”
“Each character thinks they’re right, and each is very wrong,” said director Scott Gremillion. “The trick for me is to make this interesting and not a heavy-handed message about addiction. It’s a snapshot of their lives when they’re making decisions that will affect them for the rest of their lives.”
“The Motherf**ker with the Hat” is dark and deep, but like any director knows, if you’re going to tell people the truth, they’d better be laughing when you do. And the truth is, none of us are without our own propensity for addiction and infidelity.
As Jackie says, “Ain’t nothin’ misdirected here.”