In God’s Hat

by Richard Taylor
Directed by Kevin Kittle
Starring Tom Pelphrey, Rhett Rossi, Dennis Flanagan, Gary Francis Hope, Mike Mihm
Apothecary Theatre Company at Peter J Sharp Theatre, 416 West 42nd Street
production web site:
July 18, 2010-August 7, 2010

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
August 6, 2010

Intense story of brothers and secrets and lurking unresolved passions — reminiscent of John Kolvenbach‘s On An Average Day (older married brother returning to home of traumatized childhood inhabited by younger brother, where they work out their issues in a beer can strewn kitchen) produced in Chicago by Route 66 Theatre Company in 2008.  Intense story of pedophilia and its generational causes and effects — reminiscent of Megan Gogerty‘s Love Jerry (older brother single brother provides home to economically challenged younger brother, his wife and young son, and events ensue with young son) produced in Philadelphia by Nice People Theatre Company in 2010.  (My review of that work here:  A Wild Duck moment late in this production made me gasp.  The audience around me at this penultimate performance day of In God’s Hat mentioned the name of  Sam Shepherd often while attempting to wrap heir heads around this testosterone-laden story of action and surprise and smart dialogue and focused theatre moments.  And with all that, this is a great theatre ride that can and should be met on its own terms.

Delicate looking Roy (Tom Pelphrey) has just been released from a 10 year stint in prison for a crime we suspect but is not fully revealed for some time in the play, and is settling into transitional housing when his brother Mitch (Rhett Rossi) shows up flashing a transportation permit so that parolee Roy can travel across state lines to visit their mother.  Or so we believe.  The bulk of Act One and most of Act Two takes place in a motel room not far from the prison where the two brothers make their first stop, family secrets are exchanged, fellow prisoner Arthur Cruter (Dennis Flanagan) who brutalized Roy in prison visits, an Aryan Brotherhood pal of Arthur’s (Early Boyle played by Gary Francis Hope) shows up and keeps the tensions taut.

Set by Michael Reese gives us fluidity, sordid motel living, even a pile of dirt with a particular purpose.  Direction by Kevin Kittle is smooth and straightforward.

This is a play and a production full of emotional surprises.  Some suspicions are confirmed, some tensions resolved, and no action is extraneous.  Plot points are left for future audiences to feel and enjoy — this is taut theatre making at its best.  As one brother says to another during the play’s final moments: “God is as real as the thoughts in your head.  Save yourself because he won’t.  He can’t.”  Little moments of concrete language and simply poetry abound here.

My two theatre companions for the evening were scouting this script for their respective theatre companies — one in the midwest, one in New York.  I am no theatre scout, but in my humble opinion this script is stunning and this play could be played successfully in many jurisdictions.  The Apothecary Theatre Company production has now closed but I suspect this play will live on.

© Martha Wade Steketee (August 8, 2010)

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