It has often been noted by people of faith that “the good Lord works in mysterious ways.” For all intents and purposes, He may well be taking a vacation or turning a blind eye to the mischievous antics that are unfolding at Broadway’s Booth theater, where the marquee darkly exclaims that “Broadway is going to hell in a hand puppet.”
Hell is both a figurative place and a frame of mind in Robert Askin’s outrageous play Hand To God. Set in a fundamental christian church in a nondescript town in Texas, Hand to God introduces us to Jason (Steven Boyer), the shy and reserved Mama’s boy to Margery (Geneva Carr), a deeply repressed widow who is leading the church’s puppet ministry. Nerdy Jessica (Sarah Stiles) and bad boy Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer) round out the “puppeteers” as Pastor Greg (Marc Kudisch) watches over his flock–and a close, seductive eye on Margery.
No one seems terribly enthused about the idea of performing in front of the church and suddenly, rehearsals only get worse once Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, springs to life on his hand. This devil incarnate quickly sets out to terrorize anything and anyone in his path and soon, the entire church is victimized by an uncontrollable, foul-mouthed, sock puppet.
One might quickly dismiss Hand to God as a crude, sacrilegious work of simple comedy. But Askins morality tale delves deeper, inviting us to explore the direction of our moral compass. Do we choose to do wrong or does wrongdoing control us? Furthermore, how long can we repress natural inclinations before they push us past the precipice of confinement?
Let’s not overlook the comedy factor here, though. Hand to God is laugh out loud funny, thanks mostly to this finely tuned cast. Boyer seems to effortlessly toggle between Jason and Tyrone but his contrasting personalities are as deliriously different as night and day. Carr is wonderful as a mother desperately trying to hold it all together–and failing miserably. Oberholtzer’s punkish behavior adds even more devilish fun to the mix, and Stiles delivers a first-rate, understated performance as the brainiac who is fed up with everything and everyone. Stage veteran Kudisch offers a solid and stoic portrayal of an opportunistic spiritual leader.
On the surface, Hand to God is a bawdy, adult rated stage comedy but like human nature itself, it is layered by nuance, complications, and empathy. As a new American play, it delivers a jolt of freshness and originality to the genre.
Hand to God plays at the Booth Theater, 222 West 45th Street (between 8th and Broadway). For tickets and information, visit the box office, or http://handtogodbroadway.com/