For the past 15 years, the Rosenthal family has sponsored a new-play award in Cincy that has sent a bevy of fine scripts to Off Broadway and the regional circuit. But the Rosenthals pulled their funding after reading this new play, an intensely sexual preem that depicts the strange connections between twentysomething twins and a survivor of the Jonestown massacre who may or may not be their father.

For the past 15 years or so, the Rosenthal family has sponsored a new-play award in Cincy that has sent a bevy of fine scripts — from “The Dead-Eyed Boy” to “Coyote on the Fence” — to Off Broadway and the regional circuit. But the Rosenthals pulled their funding after reading this new play, an intensely sexual preem that depicts the strange connections between twentysomething twins and a survivor of the Jonestown massacre who may or may not be their father.

Granted, this is no family treat. But there’ s no territory exposed here that Tracy Letts or Canadian bad-boy Brad Fraser didn’t already plow in the 1990s — in Cincinnati, at that. “Hiding Behind Comets” has some contrivances, and is far from subtle, especially in Michael Evan Haney’s flashy production. But it’s a riveting, edge-of-the-seat affair shot through with sex, violence, narrative thrills and a smart, engaging premise.

Set entirely in a bar in a California nowheresville town, the four-hander introduces Troy (Christian Conn) and Honey (Jacqueline Van Biene), fraternal twins who tend a family-owned tavern.

A menacing middle-aged stranger named Cole (Dan Moran) wanders into the bar and, after a little banter with Honey, figures out the twins’ unusual relationship: Honey gets her kicks by enticing her friends to sleep with her brother. While Troy gets it on in the storeroom downstairs, Honey has a spontaneous orgasm in front of Cole. He goes on to reveal that he was in Jonestown for the infamous grape Kool-Aid massacre.

As the night drags on, Cole adds that he knew the twins’ mother. He got her out of Jonestown before the final nastiness. Now Cole (played with intentional semi-psychotic ambivalence by Dan Moran) has come to find out if the twins are his own progeny or that of loopy cult leader Jim Jones. If they belong to Jones, he intends to kill them, lest they turn out to be nuts themselves. If they belong to him, he plans to disappear.

Thanks in no small measure to Dysktra’s ability to parse the plot twists deftly, it’s more convincing than it sounds. It’s also intriguing, with underpinnings that explore cult behavior and the idea of kids inheriting the sins and inclinations of their parents.

Excursions into Jonestown flashbacks come just as the play threatens to dissolve into barroom standard issue. The language walks a fine line between theatrical stylization and naturalism.

There are daring, on-the-edge performances to enjoy, especially the terrific Biene and Conn as the twins whose interlaced worlds get thoroughly rocked.

Featuring loud f/x, a tricks-laden set from Kevin Rigdon and intensely theatrical lighting from David Lander (“I Am My Own Wife”), Haney’s production sometimes overplays its hand. But this isn’t the show to shy away from the dark games of theater. “Hiding Behind Comets” will show up again somewhere soon, and it will sell a lot of tickets.

Hiding Behind Comets

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; 225 seats; $46.50 top

Production

A Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park presentation of a play in two acts by Brian Dykstra. Directed by Michael Evan Haney.

Creative

Sets, Kevin Rigdon; costumes, Gordon DeVinney; lighting, David Lander; sound, Chuck Hatcher; production stage manager, Suann Pollock. Artistic director, Ed Stern. Opened March 25, 2004. Reviewed April 15. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast

Troy - Christian Conn Honey - Jacqueline Van Biene Erin - Erica Schroeder Cole - Dan Moran
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