The play with the unprintable name also contains plenty of references to drug use, alcoholism, adultery and betrayal. Plus, of course, it’s full of even more swearing. But while it might not be G-rated, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ latest work (earlier plays include Jesus Hopped the A Train and Our Lady of 121st Street) is a gritty, savvy and sometimes savage lesson about what surviving an addiction one day at a time really entails.
As the play opens, Jackie (Bobby Cannavale) is doing well. Not only is the alcoholic parolee straight and sober, he’s living with his hot, if tempestuous, long-term lover, Veronica (Elizabeth Rodriguez), and he’s just landed a new job. But when he spots an unknown man’s hat on the table, his suspicious instincts are aroused and fireworks ensue as he accuses Ronnie of cheating on him. In the aftermath of his big blowup, he turns to his sponsor, Ralph D. (Chris Rock) to calm him down, but although the slick, smooth-talking 12-stepper seems to have it all together, his own relationship with his disillusioned wife Victoria (Annabella Sciorra) is on the skids, so Jackie resorts to his gay-acting cousin Julio (Yul Vázquez). As you might imagine, these are people with poor impulse control, and the crackling dialogue and fast-moving action ricochet sharply and surprisingly – as does the bullet Jackie finally shoots.
It’s a passionate play, vivid and sometimes violent, about people who at the best of times live disturbingly close to the edge of desperation. Director Anna D. Shapiro keeps up both the pace and the intensity, highlighting the tense humor and the high drama that keep the play as irresistible to watch as a burning dynamite fuse. Cannavale is exceptional as a guy with two strikes against him who’s nonetheless doggedly determined to do whatever it takes to stay straight – except give up his addict girlfriend. As his life is stripped from him, Cannavale captures not only Jackie’s grim despair, but the heartbreaking ruthlessness he needs to endure. Rodriguez is a force of nature as the fiery Ronnie, while Rock’s bland-faced equivocator is simply satanic in his self-serving rationalizations. As this trio struggles with their mingled love and hate for one another, promising, quoting, lying and, of course, cursing, the power of language evoked by the title becomes ever clearer – as does the truth of day-to-day life that transcends it.