‘You can’t judge a book by its cover’, or so the saying goes, and conversely, you can’t judge a play by its title. In choosing to stage the play The Motherf**ker with the Hat, Troy Harrison and Zoe Trilsbach were aware that the name might not lead people to expect a moving story, but one read of the script and they knew it had to be done. “It’s pointless trying to put a play on for the sake of controversy,” says Harrison, “but we know that audiences are going to walk away from this play not only talking about the characters, but also talking about their own feelings and experiences.”
The play originally opened on Broadway in 2001 with Bobby Canavale and Chris Rock, and despite mixed reviews following the opening, was nominated for 6 Tony awards in 2011, with a total of 21 award nominations and wins.
Set among a Puerto Rican community in the Bronx in New York, the play tells the story of Jackie (played by Harrison), a recovered drug addict who, following time in gaol and rehab, has found a job, has a girlfriend, Veronica (played by Trilsbach), and is trying to get his life back on track. He comes home from work wanting to shower gifts on Veronica, but as they start getting intimate Jackie finds a man’s hat in the apartment. So begins a strange series of events surrounding ‘the mother**ker with the hat’.
This is the third production of Harrison and Trilbach’s Workhorse Theatre Company, and Harrison says that audiences are enjoying seeing work that is a little ‘out of the box’. “We like to do things that are a little bit different“, says Harrison, “and with the word Motherf**ker in the title a lot of the main theatre companies won’t touch it.”
“The play is insanely funny,” says Harrison, “hysterical at times, and heartbreaking in others. Everyone knows what it feels like to be cheated on and to feel let down, and it’s these human themes we seek to bring out in our production.” Indeed, telling human stories from within otherwise unusual productions has become something of a goal for the independent theatre company.
The company has been receiving positive feedback for their choices, and Harrison says that audiences are responding to the human stories contained within their productions. “We don’t care where the work comes from. As long as stories are about people,” says Harrison, “audiences will enjoy them. As long as we feel moved, we know the audiences will as well.”
Harrison says that while they are an independent company, they are professional in their approach, and are building a reputation for the standard of their work. In staging The mother**cker with the Hat, Workhorse have enlisted Adam Cook as director, fresh from his appointment as the Artistic Director of the South Australian Theatre Company. Over 120 hours of rehearsal have gone into the show, including intense accent and character work to depict the Puerto Rican characters.
Designer Dylan Tonkin has also found innovative ways to stage the play both on a limited budget and in a restricted space. Harrison says that Tonkin has really taken on the challenge of creating the set for three different apartments that can be changed quickly in the confines of the Tap Gallery, and has created a set that will assist the story being told to full effect.
So while the title may throw out some expectations, Workhorse Theatre Company are confident that audiences will experience a moving story that will generate much discussion in the hours afterwards. “It ends in a weird place that is hopefully uplifting.” Says Harrison, “but it really does take your breath away. We hope that after the show is over, audiences will step out of the theatre and take their first breath.”
The Motherf**ker with the Hat premieres at TAP Gallery on April 17 until May 5. Visit www.workhorsetheatreco.com for details.