OK. About that title we dare not print or speak its name: The forbidden word in "The [Expletive] With the Hat" is revealed and repeated in the early scenes of Stephen Adly Guirgis' raw 2011 play making its Long Island premiere.
Guirgis, who just this week won the Pulitzer for drama for "Between Riverside and Crazy," didn't do himself any favors with the unmentionable title. Tony-nominated "Hat" was nearly impossible to promote properly in the mainstream media. Despite great interest generated by Chris Rock's Broadway debut in a key supporting role, the show closed in three months.
"Hat" deserved a better fate. Still, it's not for the faint of ear. All the characters speak a language peppered with impolite words, aside from the title expletive. But they talk like real people who, in their narcissistically disordered way, have something to say.
When we meet fresh-out-of-prison Jackie, he's on a high that for once isn't generated by booze or drugs. He greets his girlfriend, Veronica, with news that he's landed a job. In one of the few notes that doesn't ring true in "Hat," Veronica jumps into the shower just before jumping into bed with Jackie on Bare Bones Theater's minimal set. This pretext gives him time to discover the hat. Since it's not his, Jackie assumes it belongs to Veronica's lover as he sniffs her pillows and sheets. Accusations fly. Jackie pulls out a gun, but doesn't shoot. Instead, he calls on Ralph, his AA sponsor, who advises that women aren't worth the trouble -- this within earshot of his irascible wife -- and that he should ditch the gun. Jackie's cousin Julio stashes the parole-violation firearm and offers to muscle up for him in a personal grievance against Ralph.
As directed with inexorable momentum by Jeff Bennett, Kyle Grant convinces us that Jackie is a young man of principles as well as passion. Ralph, played with an obnoxious sense of superiority by Greg Cappello, thinks that being clean entitles him to take advantage of everyone around him. As Ralph's wife, Cat Capece exudes the miserable lot that is Victoria's life, while Alessandro Barbarotto as Julio ably represents the only wholly sympathetic character in "Hat." As Veronica, Vianna Nater is explosively reactive to Jackie, the love of her life.
But for me, it's hard to root for people who seem so willfully self-destructive.
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through May 3, Bare Bones Theater, 57 Main St., Northport
TICKETS $25; 631-606-0026, barebonestheater.com