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Chris Rock in 'The Mother... With the Hat' on Broadway: What did the critics think?

April 13, 2011 | 11:04 am

RockIt has been called "that play," the "MoFo" play and the Chris Rock play. Newspapers have rendered the unprintable expletive that is stubbornly embedded in its title as "MF," "M---" and simply "_______."

Stephen Adly Guirgis' "The Mother... With the Hat" opened this week at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York with a cast that includes Rock, Bobby Cannavale, Annabella Sciorra, Yul Vázquez and Elizabeth Rodriguez.

Developed at the Ojai Playwrights Conference, the drama with the partly unprintable title focuses on Jackie (Cannavale), a recovering addict, and his Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Ralph D. (Rock). Together, they contend with girlfriends, crazy relatives and the challenges of sobriety.

Anna D. Shapiro, a Tony winner for "August: Osage County," directs the play.

Guirgis is a co-artistic director of LAByrinth Theater Company, an off-Broadway group that produces gritty, sometimes humorous plays about New York life. (The company recently formed a partnership with the Elephant Theatre Company in Hollywood.)

His other plays include "Jesus Hopped on the 'A' Train," "The Last Days of Judas Iscariot," "In Arabia, We’d All Be Kings" and "The Little Flower of East Orange." In 2009, Guirgis blogged for Culture Monster about his experiences at the Ojai Playwrights Conference.

Rock, who is making his Broadway acting debut, is the popular draw for the new play. But critics are mostly focusing on Guirgis and Cannavale in their reviews, which have been largely positive.

Ben Brantley of the New York Times described the play as "by far the most accomplished and affecting work from the gifted Mr. Guirgis, a prolific and erratic chronicler of marginal lives." The ensemble cast is "marvelous, intensely focused," with "Rock, in a solid Broadway debut, and a blazingly good Bobby Cannavale."

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney called the play "equal parts funny, abrasive and tender," and an "odd fit for Broadway." Among the lead performers, "Chris Rock does Chris Rock entertainingly" but the play belongs to Cannavale, whose "performance is what holds the play together."

Terry Teachout of the Wall Street Journal praised the drama as "tight, smart and splendidly well-made, a tough-minded, unromantically romantic comedy that keeps you laughing, then sends you home thinking."  As for Rock, "his inexperience shows -- he's a bit stiff at times -- but you can see that he's well on his way to getting where he wants to go."

The New York Post's Elisabeth Vincentelli was less impressed, writing that "Rock's tentative performance creates an imbalance that throws the show out of whack." Guirgis' writing is "hyperactive and often very funny" and most of the rest of the cast members "are completely attuned to the writer's uber-New York flow, reveling in its brash musicality."

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-- David Ng

Photo (top): Chris Rock in "The ... with the Hat" at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York. Credit: Joan Marcus / Associated Press

Photo (bottom): Stephen Adly Guirgis. Credit: Jemal Countess / Getty Images

 

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