Review by Tulis McCall
(13 Apr 2011)
The best element of this show is the set by Todd Rosenthal that flips and twists and turns itself into three different apartments. It also shoots up into the recesses of the stage itself, but this spectacular jump is only seen by the first half of the Orchestra Section. The rest of the audience misses out. And, in spite of the standing ovation (yawn) I’m guessing that about the same number of people miss whatever this play is supposed to be about. That would include me.
Jackie (Bobby Cannavale) is a man on parole and in drug rehab. He is riding high when we meet him because he just landed a job. He and his woman, Veronica (Elizabeth Rodriguez) are going to celebrate in bed. But first the little woman must take a shower, and while she is showering, our man Jackie is interrupted mid-boast by the sight of one of those cheesy little fedora’s that guys are sporting these days. It is sitting on a table all by its lonesome. Jackie assumes the worse and does a scent inspection of the bed. He comes up with Aqua Velva and semen. Next comes the argument. Next he leaves and moves in with his sponsor Ralph D (Chris Rock) and his wife Victoria (Annabella Sciorra). Next comes a few hilarious scenes with Jackie’s Cousin Julio (Yul Vázquez). Next Jackie does the obligatory falling off the wagon. Next we all find out who the Motherf**ker With the Hat is.
This show starts with a fabulous few pages. I mean that. The opening monologue is by Rodriguez is just brilliant. And the first moments of the scene between Cannavale and Rodriguez follow suit. Then it all slides slowly downhill. This is due partially to the script, and mostly due to the acting. Chris Rock is way out of his depth here, and it is disappointing. He is an extraordinary comic – edgy and barrier breaking. Here, he is lost. There is no nuance or finesse. He just gives the character the once-over and that is that. He is not shirking his duty. He simply has no more to give.
Equally disappointing is Annabella Sciorra. Her role as the unhappy whistleblower is critical to the story, but she plays it with one harsh whiney note. This is a woman who has been treated badly by her man and we need to see why she stays – or we at least need to feel it. But Sciorra has left her empathy skills at home, and her work is void of depth or color.
Vazquez fares better because he has some cracker-jack lines to deliver. He does this with a wonderful deadpan face, except for the times when he cracks and laughs at his own lines. Hello??? Did he not get the memo re: Laughter? The audience is supposed to laugh, doll. Not the actor. Dope-slap is in order big time.
Cannavale and Rodriguez pretty much do okay, but they are hobbled by a script that just defies believability: a guy in recovery lives with a woman who snorts coke and leaves it around the apartment. When he discovers evidence of a tryst, he lets her talk him into going out for a piece of pie so they can calm down, but we never see this important scene so we don’t learn how she wiggles out of the situation. The “discovery” scene is without rhythm so that when the beans are spilled, they are really spilled. All that talent up on the stage and nothing to show for it! Hard to say what Ms. Shapiro (director of August Osage County) was able to shape or not. But the result is that there is no horse to be seen, and the barn doors are flapping in the wind.
One never knows how plays ultimately come to assume their shape. If it is a wild success we don’t care because we are too busy reveling in the result. If it is a miss, we are struck dumb with wonder. How does a production end up being less than the sum of its parts?
Dull as dishwater. Dull as paint. Dull as dull can be. Dammit!
"Vibrant and surprisingly serious new comedy opened ... under a title that cannot be printed in most daily newspapers or mentioned on network television. This is vexing for those of us who would like to extol ... (its) virtues."
Ben Brantley for NY Times
"This rapid-fire work delivers plenty of voyeuristic thrills over 100 minutes. But fresh insights and illuminations on its themes are in far shorter supply."
Joe Dziemianowicz for NY Daily News
"Rock's tentative performance creates an imbalance that throws the show out of whack."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"A funny, fast-paced play "
Philip Boroff for Bloomberg
"Chris Rock is a naturally funny guy, but he's totally wrong for Ralph D. ...The miscasting throws the whole play off balance, dangerously tipping it toward an HBO comedy special and away from an insightful character study. ... Despite this central flaw—and it's a big one—there is still plenty to praise."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"The characters just don't click into place in a dramatically potent way. There are lots of riffs, which never rise to a crescendo."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"This is a small play in a big production."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"This "Motherfucker" isn't ready to throw its hat into the Broadway ring."
Steven Suskin for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...