When you ask an audience to spend some quality time with a horrific type of person — like, say, a child molester or the white supremacist whose whining and bile take up a good portion of the running time of "In God's Hat," the fall opener at the Profiles Theatre — you have an obligation as an artist to justify that investment of an evening. I mean, beyond shock and awe or whatever.
Actually, in the post-"Killer Joe" universe, there's not much that's shocking or awe-inspiring about this pulpy, self-consciously edgy drama from Rhett Rossi (it was previously produced off-Broadway by the Apothecary Theatre Company). Its elements are very familiar: two brothers with a complicated relationship and at least one horrible past, potboiler dialogue, a remote motel room, the shadow of prison, a mysterious assailant, scars, blood, a body in a bathtub. Maybe in Chicago we've been there, done that more than other towns, but one waits in vain during this play for real, fresh surprises and for an explanation on why we might actually feel anything for this crew.
Director Joe Jahraus has a cast a couple of wily old Chicago actors in Darrell W. Cox and Larry Neumann, Jr. Their on-the-edge fraternal performances contain some genuine amusements and pleasures, especially in the first part of the evening, when Cox goes into his full-on cowboy mode, which he always does well, and a very game Neumann, playing a shivering weasel of a character, displays every inch of his body, filled with brutal scars for this occasion. Profiles has been upping the ante on its design work and this excellent set, from Shaun Renfro, is a very shrewd college of gothic Midwest bland. There's even a live band, twanging away in a little skybox as the blows land, the guilt trips and blood flows.
But once the Nazi guy shows up in the motel room (he's played, quite decently, by the genuinely intimidating John Victor Allen), followed by another mysteriously malevolent character, it starts to feel like the production isn't building in intensity on the same schedule as a play that needs at least one big, game-changing diversion from the post-pulp, shockerama playbook, one clear reason to invest your time.
When: Through Oct. 13
Where: Profiles Theatre Main Stage, 4139 N. Broadway
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Tickets: $35-$40 at 773-549-1815 or profilestheatre.org