“The Motherf**ker with the Hat” a test of trust, relationships

Direct from Broadway in 2011, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” comes to Chicago in true Steppenwolf fashion. Pieces from the Broadway production with a fresh Chicago company creates a dynamic look at relationships, addictions and recovery.

The show focuses on recovering alcoholic Jackie as he works to get back on his feet after being recently released from jail. Working to rekindle his relationship with longtime girlfriend Veronica, Jackie’s trust is questioned when he spots another man’s hat in their apartment. Jackie’s mood flips as he struggles for answers and revenge.

Jackie, played by John Ortiz, carries the show as he fights to keep his head above water. Capturing the vulnerability of his character, Ortiz keeps you rooting for some vengeance from start to finish. Sandra Delgado, who plays Veronica, opens the show with confidence, creating authentic chemistry with Ortiz that is very compelling. Some of the strongest moments lie within the silence as Delgado faces downstage fighting back tears.

This five-person show comes down to the relationships. From scene to scene Jackie looks for support from his sponsor Ralph D and cousin Julio.

Frustrated with Veronica, Jackie relies on his recovery sponsor for guidance. Their apparent friendship of support is not as healthy as it appears to be, though. Ralph (played by Jimmy Smits) has problems of his own. In a tense relationship with wife Victoria (played by Sandra Marquez) they have trust issues of their own.

Ralph D, played by Emmy Award winner Jimmy Smits, towers over the cast and commands the stage as his character requires. Although the experienced actor seemed the least comfortable of the cast, he delivers a very static performance in comparison to the very dynamic story.

Throwing one more relationship into the mix, Jackie frequents his Cousin Julio’s apartment for a helping hand as he works to sort out his life. Gary Perez, who plays Uncle Julio, adds the perfect dose of comedy into the tense and f-bomb filled script.

The most flawless part of the production is undoubtedly Todd Rosenthal’s creative set design. Jumping from apartment to apartment the walls drop, revolve and turn in perfect choreography. Along with Terence Blanchard’s original music that propels along the transitions, the technical aspects of the production are impeccable.

Tony Award-winning director Anna D. Shapiro’s direction helps bring these characters to life. For an hour and 40-minute production, the show is very engaging. At surface level, “The Motherf**ker with the Hat” just sounds angry. However, amidst these foul-mouthed New Yorkers lies an intricate story of relationships and trust.

“The Motherf**ker with the Hat” runs through March 3 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre. Tickets range from $20-$86. Student discounts and rush tickets are also available before every performance. For additional student discounts, visit stppenwolf.org/students.