It’s a title that seems designed to limit publicity, even conversation. It’s a safe bet that a lot of potential ticket-buyers have opted against seeing the show because of that title.
In fact, most theaters have disguised the title in one way or another, and most mainstream publications have to be coy about it.
The play is titled “The (Expletive) With the Hat.” And despite the unprintable (and in a lot of social settings, unspeakable) title, it has become one of the most talked-about plays of recent seasons.
It’s next up from the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.
Director Celine Rosenthal, who recently moved to Sarasota from New York to work full-time for Asolo, suggested the play to conservatory officials, partly because it accommodates the large, young cast that best suits conservatory productions.
“People think it’s going to be vulgar, but the language is elevated,” Rosenthal said. “It’s the poetry of profanity.”
The script comes from playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose other well-known works include “Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train,” “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” and “Between Riverside and Crazy,” which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Philip Seymour Hoffman directed the Off-Broadway productions of several of Guirgis’ plays.
“The (Expletive) With the Hat” hit Broadway in 2011 in a production that starred Chris Rock (in his Broadway debut) and Bobby Carnavale. Reviews of the Broadway staging praised the script mightily, though some reviewers took issue with the production.
It garnered several Tony Award nominations, but no wins, and it was a commercial flop, but it’s been popular with regional theaters around the country.
The dark comedy revolves around a man named Jackie, recently released from prison and trying to get his life back in order. He’s clean and sober, but his girlfriend Veronica is still a druggie. Jackie sees a man’s hat in Veronica’s bedroom, and because it is not his, he accuses her of cheating. He confides in his AA sponsor, but ignores his friend’s advice, gets a gun and sets out to find the title character.
Various observers have characterized underlying ideas as statements about moral relativism and the inadequacy and necessity of language.
There is a lot of cussing in the show. But I think there is a difference between using cussing as a modifier and using it as a slur.
Despite such lofty themes, the characters are marginal people with damaged lives. And while director Rosenthal talks about how the language is poetic and elevated, she allows that there’s a lot of profanity throughout the show. Potential audience members who are put off by profanity should be aware.
“There is a lot of cussing in the show,” she said. “But I think there is a difference between using cussing as a modifier and using it as a slur. There’s profanity, but it doesn’t feel like obscenity.”
Details: Jan. 3-31, Cook Theatre at the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $30 general, $15 student. 941-351-8000, asolorep.org.