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The Motherfucker With the Hat

Chris Rock, the comic dynamo who comes to Broadway having conquered every other field of entertainment, is the obvious draw for "The Motherfucker With the Hat," Stephen Adly Guirgis' raucous comedy about a pair of battling Puerto Rican lovers and the friends who enable their self-destructive relationship.

With:
Veronica - Elizabeth Rodriguez
Jackie - Bobby Cannavale
Victoria - Annabella Sciorra
Cousin Julio - Yul Vazquez

Chris Rock, the comic dynamo who comes to Broadway having conquered every other field of entertainment, is the obvious draw for “The Motherfucker With the Hat,” Stephen Adly Guirgis’ raucous comedy about a pair of battling Puerto Rican lovers and the friends who enable their self-destructive relationship. Although Broadway proves too much of a stretch for Rock, if this multihyphenate talent is really serious about stage acting, there are some savvy thesps in this show who could show him the ropes.

Bobby Cannavale and Elizabeth Rodriguez come out swinging — and swearing a blistering blue streak — as Jackie and Veronica, longtime lovers who are hooked on all kinds of evil substances and bad behaviors, but mostly on one another. Theirs is a masochistic and self-devouring love, but it suits their hyperbolic style and everything is lovey-dovey — until Jackie looks around the crummy room he and Veronica share in a Times Square residential hotel and spots a hat that doesn’t belong to him.

Cannavale is a big guy with a loud voice and huge hands, which makes Jackie’s explosion of jealous rage something to behold. But Veronica owns this man, and after a furious exchange of pungent gutter language (a Guirgis specialty, delivered with passionate conviction by both thesps), the first round goes to Veronica.

But the war has just begun in this mashup of sitcom humor, true crime drama and telenovella romance, as Jackie goes tearing off to look for a gun, the motherfucker with the hat, or one good reason not to kill Veronica.

The first person Jackie bursts in on is Ralph D, his best friend and AA sponsor and a funny guy, with his narcissistic airs and affectations of superiority — but not funny enough, in Rock’s tentative perf. As Ralph’s trophy wife, Victoria, Annabella Sciorra seems even more at sea.

Jackie gets a warmer reception and better advice from his Cousin Julio (Yul Vazquez, who now owns the part forever), a fastidious bodybuilder and health foodie with a plant conservatory in his apartment and mob connections in his Washington Heights neighborhood.

Like Cannavale and Rodriguez, Vazquez is a stalwart of the LAByrinth Theater Company, where Guirgis is co-artistic director (with Vazquez) and where his earlier plays, including “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train” and “The Little Flower of East Orange,” were also developed. Call it coincidence, but any time two or more of these three thesps are in a scene, the scene takes off and flies.

But Anna D. Shapiro, an entirely worthy helmer (and Tony Award winner for “August: Osage County”) in her own right, doesn’t seem to speak the same theatrical language as the LAB gang.

Still, her staging is impeccable and there are no flies on her first-rate creative team. Todd Rosenthal’s scenic designs are a treat in themselves: Three fully dressed apartments that glide on and off on a revolve and with subtle hilarity perfectly capture the quirky nature of their residents.

But the play is thin and under-populated to begin with (only two friends for Jackie — and no family for Veronica?), and with two key performers who aren’t entirely comfortable with the ensemble gestalt, this “Motherfucker” isn’t ready to throw its hat into the Broadway ring.

The Motherfucker With the Hat

Gerald Schoenfeld Theater; 1,071 seats; $131.50 top

Production: A presentation by Scott Rudin; Stuart Thompson; Public Theater Productions; LAByrinth Theater Company; Fabula Media Partners; Jean Doumanian; Ruth Hendel; Carl Moellenberg; Jon B. Platt; Tulchin Bartner / Jamie de Roy, of a play in one act, developed at the Ojai Playwrights Conference and LAByrinth Theater Company, by Stephen Adly Guirgis. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro.

Creative: Sets, Todd Rosenthal; costumes, Mimi O'Donnell; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Acme Sound Partners; original music, Terence Blanchard; production stage manager, Charles Means. Reviewed April 9, 2011. Opened April 11. Running time: 1 HOUR, 40 MIN.

Cast: Veronica - Elizabeth Rodriguez
Jackie - Bobby Cannavale
Victoria - Annabella Sciorra
Cousin Julio - Yul Vazquez

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