Steppenwolf Introduces Mr. Not-So-Charming in The Motherf*cker with the Hat

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by Elizabeth Thomas

“I fucking love you, my mother-fucking princess fairy queen.” While that isn’t exactly what I had in mind as a young girl when thinking about how my true love would profess his undying love for me, I’ll take it. That’s one of the many profane yet endearing quotes that Jackie (John Ortiz) bestows upon his live-in girlfriend Veronica (Sandra Delgado). It’s these kinds of lines that communicate the volatile humor present in the world of the play. It’s an urban dog-eat-dog world, and these people are ready to shout out how they’ve survived it to anyone who’ll listen.

Jackie, an ex-con and recovering alcoholic attempting to piece his world back together and create a future for himself and Veronica, finds himself reverting back to old ways after finding a hat in their apartment. Fairly new to the situation, I’m not quite sure who to trust when Jackie accuses Veronica of cheating on him. After all, I don’t want to automatically assume that the ex-con is guilty, (everyone deserves a second chance, right?) and Veronica plays the devoted girlfriend role perfectly (when she isn’t snorting cocaine, that is). Unfortunately, she doesn’t quite pull it off.

For support and guidance, Jackie confides in Ralph D.-his friend and AA mentor-played by the tall, dark, and handsome Jimmy Smits. From the second Ralph enters the scene, you can sense the urgency in his intentions. There is nothing he wants more than for Jackie to have a life like his: a spacious home, a steady job, and a wife to keep him in check, with plenty of sass to boot (a devastatingly relatable performance by Sandra Marquez). However, as the play unfolds, we see that Ralph isn’t as smoothly successful as he appears. Lying, infidelity, betrayal, and the mindset that anything hecan do- even if it may be morally wrong- he should do, all seems to be well-hidden at first.

Director Anna D. Shapiro has taken on quite the task trying to tackle the heavy questions at hand: can people change? Should you break the rules because there aren’t any real consequences, even if it’s wrong? Does adulthood makes us so jaded that we are incapable of forming new, genuine bonds? Or possibly the hardest question to answer, proposed by Jackie’s wise and well-meaning Cousin Julio (Gary Perez): what does it mean to be a good relative and friend? Unfortunately, for those of us who like to have all the ends tied up, playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis is adamant about leaving the answers to those questions up to us. The production also could have benefited if it had been slotted for a smaller space; the essence of every intimate kiss, touch, or embrace was instantly lost when Ortiz and Delgado hurriedly stepped back from each other so they could project up to the rafters without yelling in each other’s ear. Luckily, scenic designer Todd Rosenthal allowed the space to influence his efficient work on the set; each piece flowed, cranked, and turned into the other, like intricate, carefully-crafted scraps of metal inside a glossy Rolex. One minute they’re slumming it up in Jackie’s run-down apartment, and then they’re cozying up on Ralph’s couch, mesmerized by the size of his plasma big-screen.

One of the most difficult concepts to grasp while watching this show is accepting that nothing can be done to help Jackie succeed. The show largely revolves around his rough upbringing and the mistakes he’s made in the past, including his alcoholism and violent fights with Veronica, but gives us a glimmer of hope that he might overcome his circumstances and change for the better. It’s like the co-dependent addict relationship I never wanted.

The character who acts as the only voice of reason is Cousin Julio, who is constantly saving Jackie’s ass, always under the condition that he’s doing so for Jackie’s mother. After Jackie fails to even act grateful, Julio confronts him head-on about being a bad friend and cousin for the past twenty years. The exchange is a solid reminder that just because two individuals love each other, doesn’t mean their relationship isn’t destructive.

This play is a refreshing, heart-breaking piece that will leave one questioning life’s fairness- or lack thereof. Keep up the profanity and violence, Steppenwolf- it looks good on you.

Elizabeth Thomas is a writer, DJ, and feminist graduating from DePaul in June 2013. She has lived in Chicago since 2009 but originally hails from Austin, Tx.  To see more of her work, visit reviewsbyelizabeth.blogspot.com

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