Why actors love The Motherf**ker With the Hat
Melissa D’Agostino runs the company with Diana Bentley and is tackling the difficult role of the co-dependent Veronica, who spends the play struggling with her own cocaine addiction, her troubled relationship with recent ex-con Jackie and her sexual relationship with his parole officer, Ralph, the unprintable title character with the troublesome chapeau.
The play made a big noise when it opened on Broadway, partially because of its controversial title but also because of Chris Rock’s mainstream debut in the title role and the play’s take-no-prisoners approach to contemporary sexuality and substance abuse.
“I love this play because of what it’s really about, which is the emotional truth of the relationships,” says D’Agostino. “Another producer passed it on to Ted Dykstra,” she says of the high-profile actor and director who’s tackling the role that Rock created in New York.
“At first I thought it wasn’t right for us, but I said, ‘Let’s have a reading’ and it was just electrifying to hear those words come off the page: the power of the text and how sincere it was.”
She had no trouble putting together an ace company, including Layne Coleman as the director and Juan Chioran, Sergio Di Zio and Nicole Stamp joining her and Dykstra in the cast.
“Everyone wanted to be in it not just because of this script, but Guirgis’s other works, like The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, which was one of the biggest hits in this city in recent years.
“Ultimately, good actors want to do good material and it doesn’t matter that we’re doing it a new theatre in a new space on a shoestring budget.”
So what is it that draws people to this work? Surely it has to be more than the outspoken subject matter or the skill of the author’s writing.
“Here’s the secret,” says D’Agostino. “Even if you can’t relate to the specific New York City working class background of these characters or to the actual addictions they’re going through, somehow you’ve still been there.
“Take my character. When you have been in love with someone since the eighth grade and love them so deeply, then you’re going to come up against the need to test the depths of that love or find a way out.
“Everybody’s got a reason for what they do. You can get behind everyone in this play by the end, even though you know you might not feel that way at the beginning.”
D’Agostino feels that society is increasingly more willing to explore the situations the characters find themselves in, which used to be dismissed as crimes or weaknesses.
“We are ready to hear this play. Issues of addiction and mental illness are more and more common in our society and we’re beginning to understand the levels people can operate on.
“Sure my character is a user, but she’s also a functioning human being. Everybody in this play is a human being first. That’s why we all want to be a part of it.”
The Motherf**ker With The Hat runs at the Coal Mine Theatre, 798 Danforth Ave. until Nov. 30. Go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/ www.brownpapertickets.comEND for tickets.