The star-studded Broadway production of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherf**ker with the Hat was nominated for six Tony Awards last year. Not surprisingly, the Australian actors currently appearing in Red Stitch’s production of this “high octane verbal prize fight” are thrilled for the opportunity, to say the least.
Christina O’Neill, a WAAPA graduate, dedicated and studious actress (and a powerhouse on stage), said the entire experience has been wonderful – from her audition to the weekly performance grind.
Inspired by the popular 2011 Masterclass with acclaimed international acting coach Larry Moss and a Checkhov intensive course she took at Stella Adler in New York, O’Neill jumped at the chance to perform as a guest actor for Red Stitch’s latest play The Motherf***er with the Hat.
“The play is really strangely poetic and muscular”, she mused. “It’s funny, yet really touching. And, it’s really accessible, which is what I love about it.”
The Motherf**ker With The Hat centres around characters in crisis, many of whom discover lies in their lives which they had no idea about. O’Neill believes that one of the beautiful things about this piece is that the characters are all so flawed, they don’t know how to cope very well, resulting in a deep black comedy.
“The first hour and forty five minutes is pace and laughs”, she explains. “But it does get heavy as it goes through.”
Playing a recovering alcoholic in a play which centres around addiction (and our responses to it) prompted O’Neill to visit AA to gain a deeper understanding of the struggle.
“I went to AA, and it was beautiful. The support network and the courage they show and the respect they give each other was amazing. I found it so moving I cried”, she recalled.
“They were all sharing their stories and talking about how it has changed them. I just needed to go to that; it was really important for me to understand it and to know why people need this [AA] and then therefore what it means to lose it.”
Red Stitch is traditionally an ensemble theatre company, but O’Neill believes that the ethnicity of this piece prompted the company to broaden their talent pool.
“The called me up to audition for the director. They are an ensemble company, and I think this is only the second play where they have had guests — and they did that on purpose, they really wanted to open it up”, she said.
“They are all New York Puerto Ricans — passionate Latino characters, and it has been really fun playing with my Rosie Perez drawl”, she laughed.
O’Neill believes that despite having it’s roots in the ethnic culture of New York city, the play speaks volumes to audiences around the world.
“Yes, it’s so about New York and being a New Yorker, but we are so exposed to that kind of culture anyway”, she said.
“It’s about universal issues – addiction and betrayal, love and jealousy”.
While the show comes with a strong language warning (just a hint, in case the title of the play hadn’t alerted you to the fact already), O’Neill explains that the script isn’t vulgar, rather, idiosyncratic and representative of the world the play represents.
“Noone seems to be offended. It’s just in the vernacular. They throw away the word motherf**ker, you know? ‘I love you, you motherf**ker’… It’s weirdly lovely, although it’s not necessarily how we speak, it doesn’t come across as unnecessary profanity.”
Having worked professionally in both musical theatre – her portrayal of Christmas Eve in the Australian premiere production of Avenue Q won her a Helpmann Award for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role – and straight theatre in Australia, O’Neill knows her passion lies in the live performance sector. Her sights are set on the shining lights of Broadway, and there is no stopping a woman as determined as she.
“About this time last year, I went to Larry Moss”, she said. “It was so inspiring and it kind of changed the game for me.”
“I really want to do some more theatre here before I go over there. I would LOVE to do theatre over there — and musicals.”
Let’s hope Australia has a few more years with the talented Christina O’Neill on our shores. But be sure to catch her in the Australian premiere of The Motherf**ker with the Hat this week at Red Stitch just in case!
by Stephen Adly Guirgis
Directed by David Bell
8 June – 7 July 2012
Book Tickets: redstitch.net
Jackie and Veronica are addicts by nature. Hooked on alcohol, drugs and even their own relationship. Now, twenty years on, they can’t seem to quit each other, no matter how squalid their lives have become. Nothing can come between them — nothing except a hat.
Venue: Red Stitch Actors Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda