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Chicago by John Olson

In God's Hat
Profiles Theatre


Darrell W. Cox, Larry Neumann, Jr. and
Bruce Cronander

Those who believe in "buying American" will be pleased to learn the USA has its own Martin McDonagh now. No need to go to Ireland to find a playwright who can give us sharp edged, funny and violent theatre. We have our very own—a Brooklynite named Rhett Rossi gives us this short but intense and frequently witty play, but one with more heart and ultimately more hope than we usually get from McDonagh.

Rossi's In God's Hat, which first ran Off-Broadway in 2010, concerns brothers Mitch and Roy, reunited as Mitch is released from prison after a 10-year sentence for sexual contact with a minor. Younger brother Roy has come to take Mitch back home, some 1500 miles away from wherever it is they are (the program notes say New York), to Oklahoma. Their first night on the road is spent in a cheap motel where we learn of their family history, the shame Mitch feels of his sexual urges, and Roy's struggles to maintain some sort of religious faith in a world where we don't see God, but we see evidence of evil everywhere. There's pain and sadness in these exchanges between Mitch and Roy, but they're laced with humor. And just when you think this might be a fairly standard drama of family reconciliation, the brothers are confronted by a flesh and blood demon when the Aryan Brotherhood member who tried to kill Mitch in prison comes knocking at the motel door. Salvation and redemption, if it is going to come at all, is going to have to wait for this real life threat from the skinhead Arthur. The jeopardy both Mitch and Roy are in keeps the tension so high, the play's gripping 90-minutes feel longer than they are.

Rossi, who went by the pseudonym Richard Taylor when the play premiered in New York, has given us in Mitch and Roy two complex, nuanced characters, and director Joe Jahraus has two of Chicago's top actors to bring them to life. Darrell W. Cox, Profiles' co-artistic director (along with Jahraus), is Roy—and he aptly embodies the younger brother's ambivalences. Roy is ashamed of Mitch, but oddly bound to him as well. He's drawn to spirituality, but confesses to having greater doubts about God's existence every day. He's deeply sad, but retains a wry sense of humor. Cox is joined by Larry Neumann, Jr., one of Chicago's most venerated actors, as Mitch. Mitch is a broken man, with the scars to prove it (Jessica Honor Carlton did the gruesome makeup), but he retains a great amount of humanity. Tormented by the sexual urges he can't control, he's grief-stricken by the harm he's caused to others and uncertain as to why he's still alive. Even so, he maintains a keen sense of reality and wit that matches Roy's.

Mitch's tormentor Arthur is hardly so nuanced, but the skillfully menacing performance of the character by John Victor Allen makes him seem very real and threatening—not at all a stage stereotype we can ignore. The fourth character, an elder of the Aryan Brotherhood named Early, is given a certain weariness along with his venality by Bruce Cronander.

There's much blood, gore and bruising in this violent play—which makeup artist Carleton, violence designers Victor Bayona and Richard Gilbert of R & D Choreography make convincingly real. At the heart of it all, though, is a meditation on the existence and nature of God that is thoughtful and penetrating. If God exists, why does he allow some people to suffer so greatly and put them in such seemingly impossible situations?

The costume and tattoo designs by Raquel Adorno give these all-too-real characters further believability, and the set design by Shaun Renfro is so authentically grimy you want to shower after leaving the theater. The larger space Profiles now enjoys in its new Main Stage theater is put to great use here, even allowing room for a live five-piece band to provide mood-setting country music.

In God's Hat offers a package of suspense, humor, violence and philosophy all in its concise 90 minutes. It works on all those levels and provides audiences a chance to see Chicago-style stage realism way up close and personal.

In God's Hat will run through October 13, 2013, at the Profiles Theater Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway, Chicago. For ticket information, visit www.profilestheatre.org or call 773-549-1815.


Photo by Michael Brosilow

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-- John Olson



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