'The play that will not be named' is a 'Mother' of an entry
by MARTIN JONES WESTLIN
Jun 02, 2014 | 786 views | 0 0 comments | 2 2 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The love-hate relationship between Jackie (Steven Lone) and Veronica (Sandra Ruiz) shows no signs of leveling off anytime soon. PHOTO BY KEN JACQUES
The love-hate relationship between Jackie (Steven Lone) and Veronica (Sandra Ruiz) shows no signs of leveling off anytime soon. PHOTO BY KEN JACQUES
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They call it “the play that will not be named” because it's got a big dirty word in the title. In an attempt to assuage their guilty consciences, they put a couple asterisks where the “u” and the “c” would be. Let's just refer to it by one of its alternate titles – “The Mother with the Hat” – and stop worrying about “them,” whoever “they” are. The title, after all, doesn't weigh that heavily into the final analysis.

The final analysis is that Old Town's Cygnet Theatre has a perfectly good piece here, its 4 million f-bombs and all. Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis fuels the show's ensemble culture amid his tight writing and ear for farce, and director Rob Lutfy heartily endorses his cast's enthusiasm and physicality. The so-called foul language has its place, fueling this situational story about drugs, alcohol, fidelity and thick hides in New York's Hell's Kitchen. It has its weak spots, but no play doesn't – and this one's major demerit could have been much worse.

Ex-drug dealer Jackie (Steven Lone) is loony with good intentions after his release from prison, but he has reason to suspect his girlfriend Veronica (an excellent Sandra Ruiz) hasn't been playing fair; he happens on a man's hat in plain sight in her apartment, and it's not his. His type-A feelings for Veronica result in the purchase of a gun – bad idea, says his drug counselor Ralph (Laurence Brown), whom it turns out had dabbled in Victoria's bed (he indeed owns the hat) as Jackie served his time. A tale of sexual suspicion, won and lost friendship and the meaning of trust is to follow.

Guirgis slathers his dialogue with “those” words, which serve less a purpose as the play progresses. Offensive? Nope, at least not to me. Gratuitous? No, because they're an absolutely appropriate reflection on the characters, and their monosyllables fuel the busy tone Guirgis is trying to set. The problem is that they eventually grow wearisome, taking some of the dynamic from the action. Guirgis nicely threads his volatile situations with his characters' introspective sides – all those bombs don't necessarily contribute to the latter climate.

Meanwhile, Guirgis plies the plot with character-building understories (not only does Veronica still use, but so does her mom; Jackie and Veronica have known each other since high school; Jackie's broken parole by firing the gun), and he adds a nice minor plot twist in resolving the sex-fueled issues between Jackie and Ralph. Jackie's going back to prison for a short stay, but Guirgis cleverly advances the idea that, for better or worse, this isn't he end for him and Veronica. This ensemble lays it out quite well, with Whitney Brianna Thomas as Ralph's sardonic wife Victoria and Esteban Andres Cruz as Jackie's cousin Julio (Cruz is pretty good, but his character's introduction and nuances are insufficiently explained).

I know something about what Hell's Kitchen is like; a guy once threw a bottle at me there and missed my eyes by less than an inch. That fella obviously doesn't represent mainstream New York life, but Guirgis clearly knows what does. His Upper West Side rearing and his local theater work have imprinted themselves on his facile writer's brain; Lutfy and his cast do the rest in this energetic piece that's as much tragedy as comedy. Guirgis and Lutfy know how to separate the one from the other, and the taut tech direction and casting to type take it from there.

The play that will not be named runs at the Old Town Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St., through June 22. For more, please visit cygnettheatre.com.

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