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'The Motherf***** with the Hat' is one show you don't want to miss

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Entertainment,Theater

Don't let the title fool you -- Stephen Adly Guirgis' play is no more about strangers or their millinery than a long gaze in the mirror is about background decor. It's inevitable that we recognize ourselves and each other in his dim carousel of broken people, in a way that is both comforting and uncomfortable, and although his high-strung urban comedy is abundantly seasoned with seemingly gratuitous expletives, there is plenty of sacred found here in the profane.

Indeed, "The Motherf***** with the Hat" is more than just a delightful romp through barbed wire, it's an awe-inspiring treasure trove of jewels mined from a man who has obviously spent some time loitering at rock bottom. Here, Guirgis shines light into dark places in the human psyche, profiling a group of addicts tiptoeing along that tenuous tightrope between sanity and sobriety.

His juicy little plot serves up a heaping dose of reality that is merely secondary to his apoplectic fits of rapid-fire dialogue and meme-worthy rants. Jackie's out on parole and trying to get his life together when he spies a mysterious hat in his girlfriend's boudoir. Although Veronica swears that his rage is unjustified, he seeks comfort from his level-headed AA sponsor and his wife. But he just can't forget that guy who left his lid behind.

Onstage
'The Motherf***** with the Hat'
Where: The Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW
When: Through March 10
Info: $39 to $82; 202-332-3300; studiotheatre.org

With their delectably vicious language and cagey fear of exposure, each of Guirgis' characters are addicted to something -- if not a substance, then something else. Their anger is righteous and the violence is gritty in Serge Seiden's superb production.

Seiden's skillful direction moves Guirgis' scenes along in a fever-pitched pace for two solid hours of nonstop tension, until it all comes hurling toward its nail-biting conclusion. That's no small feat for the five actors who perform a virtual marathon (there is no intermission), and his volatile ensemble crackles and sparks.

Drew Cortese's Jackie is a likeable anti-hero with whip-smart street sense and a penchant for girls who can spew creative insults his way. Enter Rosal Colon's vulnerable Veronica, a snarling stray cat paralyzed by guilt and pain. Liche Ariza is aptly wry as the greasy cousin who aspires to be like Van Damme, and Quentin Mare's charming, slick-tongued interpretation of Ralph, brazenly doling out a falsely apathetic philosophy, is by equal turns fascinating and revolting.

As Guirgis unveils the multiple layers of hell we sometimes put ourselves through, we discover in his incendiary language a sort of necessary theatre, highlighting the beautiful ways we tend to torture one another in our quest for real love and acceptance. For all its glorious cursing and disgusting rationalizations, it is nothing if not honest.

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