About the author:
Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis has been hailed as “a masterful poet of the downtrodden,” portraying colorful characters and New York City street life in plays such as Jesus Hopped the A Train, Our Lady of 121st Street and his latest, The Motherf**ker With the Hat, which opens on April 11 at Broadway’s Schoenfeld Theatre. Guirgis honed his craft as a writer (and sometime actor) at off-Broadway’s LAByrinth Theater Company, inspired by his work as a violence prevention specialist and H.I.V. prevention educator in prisons, shelters and schools. Broadway.com asked the very talented Guirgis to write about the origins of Motherf**ker and share what his Broadway debut—with a cast led by Chris Rock, Bobby Cannavale and Annabella Sciorra—means to him.
A couple of summers ago, I was in Chicago with my friend Bob Glaudini and I injured my back pretty badly. When I got back to New York, I spent 10 days in bed before I could even make it to a doctor's office. My condition was so serious that when I was bedridden, my father more than once had to wipe my butt for me, and he did it without flinching and with love and dignity. If you ever want to know how much someone loves you, see how they react when they have to clean your butt. My dad's gone now, so he won't be here for the opening night of The Motherf**ker with the Hat, but I think the play—and its examination of acceptance, loyalty and love—started somewhere in those 10 days when he took care of me.
Eventually, I made it to a few doctors, all of whom recommended immediate surgery. I was supposed to go to my off-Broadway theater company's two-week summer intensive upstate, and the doctors told me I was forbidden to travel. But LAByrinth is my family, and I wanted to be there even for a day or two, so I found a way. Once I was there, I figured I ought to try to write something to present to the company, even if it was a few pages or a short scene. So I got a bunch of pillows, swallowed a bunch of anti-inflammatories and sat down to write.
Usually I kind of hate writing, and there's a whole drama I've got to put myself through to begin to write, but in this instance, I was so grateful to be with my friends and out of the city that I kind of told myself, "Just shut up and write." And so I did. And the pages began spilling out faster than I could manage the pain that I was feeling, so I pretty much wrote until I dropped. We read the pages the next day, and I came back to the city with enough of a play to somehow allow my agent, John Buzzetti, to make a deal happen to produce the play with Scott Rudin, the Public Theater, and my company—LAByrinth.
I wrote a fan letter to the director Anna Shapiro, best known in New York for August: Osage County, and she ended up agreeing to direct the play. I knew it would be a real tall order to find someone who I loved and trusted as much I love and trust my dear and brilliant friend Phil Hoffman, who has been directing my plays for the last 10 years. But from literally the first moment I met Anna, in a restaurant in Midtown, I knew she was the one—and I am so grateful to say she has been nothing short of brilliant, beautiful and amazing.
It's embarrassing how lucky I am to be able to work with Anna, and with my LAByrinth family, on Broadway. Bobby Cannavale, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Yul Vázquez are company members, but when I say "family," I include Chris Rock and Annabella Sciorra. Like Anna, who they are as people and what they bring to the work made them family members from day one. All heart. No ego. And so much talent, willingness and effort.
The work is hard and uncompromising, and we are working hard to make a good show for our audience. The fact that we get to do it in the same theater where John Malkovich changed my life when I saw his performance in Burn This back when I was a bike messenger—it's a lot to take in. And so I take it in by not really taking it in and just concentrating on doing the work.
If I die tomorrow, it would suck. But getting to do this play with these people in this theater? I wouldn't be able to argue too much at the Pearly Gates. New York City is my lifelong home, this group of people are my family, and if you gotta go, then hey—give my regards to every place else—better to go on Broadway.