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City Lights: The play with the unprintable name

December 17, 2012|By Michael Miller

This column would be so easy to write if only I worked for OC Weekly.

At that rakish-and-proud-of-it publication, just about anything goes, and that includes swear words. But here I am stuck at an apparently family-friendly paper, which poses a significant problem in describing South Coast Repertory's upcoming play.

The other week our theater critic, Tom Titus, emailed a list of shows that he planned to review. When we noticed the title of the play opening at SCR on Jan. 6, we held an impromptu huddle to decide how to print it in Times Community News papers. What we finally settled on was "The [Expletive] with the Hat" — that expletive being a 12-letter word that starts with "M" and that, frankly, we all heard seven or eight times a day in middle school.

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No, it's not a nice word, but after hearing it so many times for so many years, it's doubtful that hearing it once more would do much harm. Still, we have our ethical standards to uphold, and so do many others. Wikipedia, democratic site that it is, prints the title unaltered but notes that it's sometimes censored as "The Mother with the Hat," which sounds more like a nursery rhyme.

On SCR's website, the title appears with a pair of asterisks between the "F" and "K." The email that the theater sent to its mailing list this week did an even more elaborate job of dancing around the obvious: The subject line was "The Hit Play with the Irreverent Title," while the body contained a headline proclaiming "One Funny Mother of a Play" and quoted the New York Times calling it "the play that dare not speak its name."

(Just an aside: "The [Unpleasant Person] with the Hat" comes on the theater's schedule right on the heels of "A Christmas Carol," which has been a family staple there for decades. You can't say SCR doesn't aim for a wide audience.)

Has producing Stephen Adly Guirgis' comedy, which Broadway.com described as "a high-octane verbal cage match about love, fidelity and misplaced haberdashery," posed any problems for SCR? How about theaters that have staged it in the past? Curious, I contacted our local playhouse, as well as the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York, which premiered the play in 2011, and TheaterWorks in Connecticut, which hosted it later that year.

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