Story: Jackie is on parole after doing time for dealing drugs. He heads to the New York apartment of his girlfriend Veronica, who has her own issues with illegal substances. Unhappy with her life, Veronica uses cocaine in an attempt to escape from her crushing reality.

She’s kind of happy to see Jackie, who’s been in love with her essentially since they were in high school. While waiting for Veronica to join him in bed, Jackie notices a man’s hat on the kitchen table which he knows isn’t his. He confronts Veronica about it, escalating his anger when she denies knowing who is the owner of the offending fedora.

Still obsessed with the hat dilemma, Jackie tells his parole counselor Ralph about his suspicions. Ralph warns Jackie to let his anger subside and to concentrate instead on kicking bad habits lest he end up back in prison. He inquires whether Jackie has been regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings since his release and how important it is that Jackie toe the straight and narrow path.

Ralph tells Jackie that he has Jackie’s back, in part because Ralph himself has a sordid past of his own. Now, he’s a fitness devotee and says that he’s happily married to his wife Victoria, even if her sarcastic shouts from another room of their apartment indicate otherwise.

Unable to control his impulses, Jackie obtains a gun from an acquaintance and seeks revenge against the owner of the offending hat. Ralph warns Jackie to get rid of the firearm, so Jackie implores his cousin Julio to hide it. Later, though, he returns to get the gun to exact the vengeance that gnaws at him.

Jackie is off to a shaky start with a new job, he has major trust issues with Veronica and he seems unable to heed the good advice offered by Ralph and Julio. In his gut, he knows that Veronica is cheating on him, and he’s hell-bent on learning the identity of “the motherf##ker with the hat.” But at what cost?

Highlights: R-S Theatrics presents a raw, festering production of this look into a contemporary hell by playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis. Taut direction by Carl Overly Jr. and lean, mean performances by his ensemble bristle with scary, palpable tension.

Other Info: Guirgis steadily builds stress and suspense in his one-act, 90-minute drama, which was first performed in 2011 on Broadway with a cast that included Chris Rock, Bobby Cannavale, Annabella Sciorra, Elizabeth Rodriguez and Yul Vazquez, with music by Terence Blanchard (the latter is premiering a new work at Opera Theatre of Saint Louis in its 2019 season).

Overly sets the action on a two-tiered set designed by Taylor Gruenloh, with the stage at the .ZACK serving as Veronica’s bedroom and the floor below doubling alternately as Ralph’s living room and Julio’s fancier abode. Christina Rios’ costume design dresses Julio and Ralph in fashionable attire while Jackie’s scruffy look underscores his financial problems.

Mark Kelley adds a raucous sound design which accentuates Jackie’s dire situation as well as some very impressive and realistic fight choreography which explodes near the show’s conclusion. Todd Schaefer’s lighting complements the often gritty goings-on as do Heather Tucker’s props.

Adam Flores anchors this arresting version of Guirgis’ profanity-laced story, which R-S Theatrics recommends for audiences age 14 and older. Flores captures Jackie’s menacing, glowering demeanor and visceral reactions to his circumstances while equally conveying the street hustler’s genuine and long-standing love for his girlfriend.

Aaron Dodd effectively delivers Ralph’s cool and persuasive dialogue, even when acknowledging horrible truths to Jackie, rationalizing all the way. There’s fine work as well by Sofia Lidia as the emotionally tortured Veronica and Taleesha Caturah as Ralph’s exasperated and disillusioned wife Victoria.

Jesse Munoz shines as Jackie’s cultured and refined cousin Julio, who is weary of Jackie’s behavior but remains loyal because of Jackie’s childhood allegiance to his “different” and ostracized relative.

Overly maintains a steady pace for this steamy, seamy story, making The Motherf##ker with the Hat a scary but believable cautionary tale.

Play: The Motherf##ker with the Hat

Company: R-S Theatrics

Venue: .ZACK Incubator, 3224 Locust Street

Dates: February 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10

Tickets: $18-$20; contact 534-1111 or www.metrotix.com

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of Jill Lindberg