It's a delicious irony that Black Swan's first productions for 2013 are the staple crowd-puller, The Importance of Being Earnest, and Stephen Adly Guirgis' incendiary The Motherf**ker with the Hat.
They seem as far apart as two plays can get, yet, at their heart, they share the joy of language beautifully crafted and a fascination with human duplicity and its unravelling.
The Motherf**ker's Algernon and Cecily are Jackie (Austin Castiglione) and Veronica (Rhoda Lopez), two young Puerto Rican New Yorkers, childhood sweethearts whose relationship is buffeted by addiction (he to alcohol, she to coke), incarceration and neediness. The play opens in their chaotic West Side apartment as Jackie, not long out of prison and staying dry, comes home to Veronica with flowers, great news and carnal intent.
The news is the job he got that day, and Veronica enthusiastically reciprocates the carnality. The dawn of an American Dream seems to be breaking along West 42nd Street.
But then Jackie sees a man's hat on the breakfast table. A hat that belongs to some other, unknown, motherf er.
He explodes in suspicion and sexual grief, Veronica claws back with anger and indignation; the couple fracture.
Jackie seeks solace with his AA sponsor, the homily- sprouting Ralph (Kenneth Ransome), and his acidic, aggrieved wife Victoria (Alison van Reeken). But Jackie is adrift, foolhardy and a little dangerous.
He gets a gun from a gangster friend, confronts the neighbour he assumes is the motherf ker (with disastrous and hilarious consequences) and proceeds to make his every post a loser. Ralph, Veronica and Victoria fare little better as their houses of cards start tumbling down.
Only Jackie's buff, forthright cousin Julio (Fayssal Bazzi), who, with understandable reluctance, agrees to hide the offending weapon, keeps his head while those about him are losing theirs.
There's great comedy and fabulous, albeit spectacularly obscene, dialogue, but Guirgis keeps the core of his story anchored in the desperate, unrealisable love between Jackie and Veronica.
Lopez, who's been waiting for a part like this for her whole career, gives a wonderful performance, and Castiglioni partners her fiercely and finely. Ransome, his arms so wide as he preaches that they seem to envelop the whole set, is a convincing Ralph, and van Reeken brings her customary, deadly accuracy to Victoria.
This is a hard show to steal, but Bazzi just about does it with his glamorous, ambiguous Julio, a killer in every way.
Adam Mitchell should be grateful to Black Swan's artistic director Kate Cherry, who generously seems to save the best of her company's output for him. He returns the favour with a slick, modulated, production that neatly avoids the hazards inherent in its revolving set (precisely realised by Bryan Woltjen) and captures both the pathos and pyrotechnics of the script.
There was a sombre undercurrent to opening night as the news of John Milson's death passed through the crowd.
I'm sure Milson, an acute judge of theatre, would have relished this show.
Guirgis keeps the core of his story anchored in the desperate, unrealisable love between Jackie and Veronica.