"Your – whaddyacallit – your world view? It ain't mine. And the day it is, that's the day I shoot myself in the head. I didn't get clean to live like that."
That statement suggests the gravitas that drives the scabrous hilarity of “The Mother… With the Hat” at the Lost Studio. Stephen Adly Guirgis’ profanely engrossing 2011 study of love, recovery, moral relativism and misidentified headgear receives an invigorating L.A. premiere.
Meet Jackie (Christopher Armitrano, spot-on) and Veronica (the affecting Melissa Pino), a since-high school Upper West Side pair. He is newly sober and paroled, she’s a nominally functioning druggie, and that’s only the surface conflict of their volcanic relationship.
Jackie, eager to celebrate a just-landed job by having sex, discovers a strange fedora on the nightstand. Despite Veronica’s denials, his wrathful sights target a downstairs neighbor and source of the play’s unprintable-in-full title.
The obscenity-laden journey of discovery and dysfunction that ensues takes in Ralph (Shaun Duke, atop his game), Jackie’s homily-spouting A.A. sponsor; Victoria (the revelatory Keili Lefkovitz), Ralph’s embittered wife; and Julio (Alex Désert, a precision-timed hoot), Jackie’s clear-eyed cousin. By the elegiac ending, most of them are literally/figuratively bruised, sadder and hopefully wiser, or at least aware.
Credit Guirgis, whose skill at locating contradictory emotional impulses within the language of the streets has never been more acute. Appropriately, director Martin Papazian focuses on the human foibles lurking behind the epithets and reversals.
His staging has some studio-theater limitations – the interruptive set changes, for instance – yet it certainly puts text front and center. And the wonderful cast, chosen for rightness of character quality, responds with a perfectly pitched ensemble effort.
"Hat" isn't for the easily offended – at times Guirgis' dialogue suggests David Mamet on crack – but there's real uproar and an aching vitality to its graphic course. Fans of the author dare not miss it.