In God's Hat
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 15, 2010
In God's Hat, a jolting, insightful, and riveting new play by Richard Taylor, is the kind of theatre I love most...and the kind that, as a reviewer, I dread most, because it's one of those tight, surprise-filled suspense thrillers where you hate to give anything away.
Taking my cue from the press release, I will tell you this: the play concerns two brothers, Roy and Mitch. They haven't seen each other for ten years, during which period Mitch has been in prison, doing time for sexually assaulting boys. As the play begins, Roy has arrived to bring Mitch home, and it's clear from the get-go that Roy is carrying lots of unresolved baggage with regard to his brother and his brother's crime.
Mitch, on the other hand, is reveling in his freedom. Rhett Rossi, who plays Mitch, brings marvelous detail to the rediscovery of simple pleasures almost all of us take for granted: a can of beer, a bathtub, the sun shining in a blue sky.
However, Mitch has baggage, too; perhaps most significantly a very bad enemy he made in prison, a fellow named Arthur Cruter who is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.
Taylor has crafted a plot that constantly keeps us guessing, including at least one jump-out-of-your-seat gasp-inducing moment (and maybe more than one, that's up to you). But In God's Hat is no genre play: Taylor has some serious subjects on his mind, primarily the nature of evil and the weight of its damage—collateral as well as direct—on those who become its victims. This is a play about child abuse, but it's not simply a play about understanding and forgiveness. This play is about spiritual healing, the kind that occurs only when we take responsibility for saving ourselves (contrasted with, as one character puts it, hoping for God to save us instead).
The play has been superbly produced by Apothecary Theatre Company. Kevin Kittle's direction is taut and gripping throughout; he's led a fine technical staff—most notably fight director Rick Sordelet, set designer Michael Reese, and makeup artist Chris Halladay—to create a world for the play that's entirely convincing and thoroughly evocative. The ensemble is exemplary. In addition to Mike Mihm in a cameo role at the very beginning of the play, the cast features Tom Pelphrey, Dennis Flanagan, Gary Francis Hope, and the aforementioned Rossi. Pelphrey and Rossi have remarkable chemistry: we really believe they're brothers, and, more than that, that they are estranged brothers. Pelphrey is magnetic as the badly conflicted Roy, and Rossi is memorable as the damaged Mitch; both bring such intelligence and grace to their roles that we never stop hoping that what's been done to these men is somehow not going to prove irreparable. Taylor gives them wonderful articulate poetry to speak, a blend of Tennessee Williams's loquaciousness and Sam Shepard's stark imagery that binds the brothers in the play and is brought to stunning life by Pelphrey and Rossi.
Flanagan and Hope are, by design, pretty darn frightening as, respectively, Arthur Cruter and another member of the Aryan Brotherhood by the name of Early Boyle.
In God's Hat is entertaining, provocative, and intellectually stimulating theatre; it may be the most compelling drama of the summer.