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A CurtainUp Review
In God's Hat
This comedic thriller (perhaps a new genre) is directed by Kevin Kittle, who is a master at building suspense. Most of the action takes place in a sleazy, out-of-the-way motel room set designer Michael Reese has recreated with scrupulous exactness, down to the cheap furniture and generic pictures.
The story begins when Mitch (Rhett Rossi) is released from prison and his younger brother Roy (soap star Tom Pelphrey) arrives to bring him home. it takes deliciously long for us to learn exactly what Tom's crime was— and even longer to explain what let up to the awful act.
Mixed in with all the evelations are the two brothers' confrontations with Arthur Cruter (Dennis Flanagan), a psychopathic, racist killer Mitch met in prison, and Cruter's one-time friend, Early Boyle (Gary Francis Hope). Flanagan and Boyle are so excruciatingly chilling that at times the tension becomes painful. Then, just when you feel you can't take it any longer, the play takes a comedic turn with a character's totally unexpected or ridiculous response.
Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice it to say there's plenty of foreshadowing,: a knife tucked away under a shirt, blood, hidden bodies, burials and confessions. But there's also much more.
The script is filled with gallows humor that more often than not hits its mark. Hope is especially terrific in his portrayal of the weary psychopath who is unaware of the more distasteful aspects of his character (think Christopher Walken in A Behanding in Spokane).
As for the two brothers, Pelphrey's surly, aggressive and somewhat self-righteous Roy is the perfect counterweight to Rossi's passive, frightened, guilt-ridden Mitch. Even more effective is the way the two characters sometimes exchange roles until they finally learn that they are really not so different after all.
Like the very best thrillers, In God's Hat has a moral standpoint. Indeed in its own absurd way, it manages to make a potent statement on the nature of family ties (especially between brothers), the horrible effects of dysfunctional and abusive families with all their terrible secrets, the corrosive power of guilt and the possibility of redemption.
In truth, there are times when all the elements in In God's Hat do not sit entirely comfortably with each other. Sometimes the play seems to have as many mood swings as a manic-depressive. Add to that some wildly improbable coincidences, and there may be some who leave the theater scratching their heads. But one suspects there will be many more trying to calm their pounding hearts.