Falling in love can be bad for your health. Waistlines spread as cosy nights on the couch with your partner and a glass or three of wine seem more inviting than another interminable evening on a treadmill at the gym.

But for Jackie, the lead character in Red Stitch’s new play The Motherf**ker With the Hat, love is a life or death issue.

A reformed drug and alcohol addict, he’s fresh out of prison and ready to start a new, clean life when fate — and the inexorable pull of his own loins — drags him back into the arms of his longtime girlfriend, Veronica, who’s still very much boozing and using.

“It’s a dramatic, addictive relationship,” director David Bell told the Star Observer during a break in rehearsals ahead of the show’s June 8 opening.

“They have wild and excessive screaming matches followed by wild and excessive make-up sessions”

The Stephen Adly Guirgis-penned play’s other central relationship is between Jackie and his AA sponsor, Ralph. Much like his union with Veronica, Jackie’s AA interactions are highly dysfunctional.

“The program itself is fine, it’s the people who are flawed,” Bell said.

“It looks at the use and misuse of power in the sponsor-sponsee relationship.

“The play is about the fragility of relationships, really — all these characters are either addicts and alcoholics or they’re battling the demons and trying to stay straight.

“As Ralph says to Jackie at one point, ‘We’re both arseholes. Who else but a couple of arseholes would have to spend their time going to meetings for the rest of their lives?’

“It’s about damaged people who are trying to somehow live a non-damaged life.”

The weighty subject matter comes alive thanks to Adly Guirgis’ sparkling script. The playwright is a member and co-artistic director of New York City’s LAByrinth Theater Company, an ensemble dedicated to staging new theatrical works.

“It very much comes out of that actor’s ensemble environment,” Bell said.

He’s directing a cast of five actors, all Red Stitch guests.

“All five roles are fantastic, and that’s the kind of play that comes out of writing for really terrific actors — you want to give them all a great role.

“The writing is extraordinary, so fabulous and muscular. Whoever has the greatest line of patter has the power. You get these hugely long sentences that are full of side notes and parentheses. One of the big challenges for all the actors is to say these lines with great confidence and speed, and trust they’ll work. I’ve become a bit of a punctuation policeman!”

INFO: The Motherf**ker With the Hat, Red Stitch Actor’s Theatre, Melbourne, June 8 – July 7. www.redstitch.net

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