The Poetry of Profanity

‘Mother[expletive] With the Hat’ exploits the power of words, four-letter or not

February 14, 2013
Veronica and Jackie (Rosal Colon and Drew Cortese) are all fireworks all the time.
Veronica and Jackie (Rosal Colon and Drew Cortese) are all fireworks all the time.

Before the lights go down at Studio Theatre for “The Mother[expletive] With the Hat,” audiences will probably be chattering about the language in the title. And, yes, anyone offended by it may keel over dead during the two-hour-with-no-intermission, lose-count-of-the-number-of-obscenities dark comedy.

The star of the show is the language, just not because a family newspaper would have to spell a goodly portion of the dialogue with asterisks. The profanity-peppered yet poetic patois shapes the play as deliberately as blank verse would.

“This is like Shakespeare. It is that structured in terms of rhythm and form,” says Drew Cortese, who plays newly sober (thanks to Alcoholics Anonymous) ex-con Jackie.

That careful structure is based in reality: “It only takes a few minutes walking down the streets of New York to hear those rhythms that [playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis] puts in the play,” Cortese says.

The unprintable title refers to a hat — not his! — that Jackie discovers in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend, Veronica (Rosal Colon). As his recently raveled life unravels again, even an audience that doesn’t know Avenue C from the Aral Sea becomes accustomed to the two New Yorkers’ speech.

Viewers are helped along by the script’s gradual segue into full-on dialect.

“We were very conscious about the opening moments of the play, we really downshift,” Cortese says. “We let people have their ears adjust before we open up the throttle and see what the play can do.”

Expletive Deleted: How can a theater promote a play when most media outlets can’t print or say the title in polite company?

That’s the challenge facing the Studio Theatre media and marketing team when it comes to “The Mother[expletive] With the Hat.” While it’s using the play’s brash, rhymes-with-brother-trucker full name on the playbill, posters, website and signage, anything sent via email calls for more discretion, says Beth Hauptle, Studio’s marketing and communications director.

“What’s in subject lines affects spam filters,” she says. “We realized that, even with asterisks, the name would raise a flag.” In news releases and other emails, Studio’s been using “The Mofo With the Hat.”

Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW; through March 10; 202-332-3300. (Dupont Circle)
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Kristen Page-Kirby | February 14, 2013