Hand to God: In brief
A trash-talking hand puppet takes charge of its shy Christian teenage handler (the brilliantly talented Steven Boyer) in Robert Askins's outrageous comedy, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel. After acclaimed runs at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2011 and 2012, the production has been picked up by MCC for a higher-profile Off Broadway production.
Hand to God: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Idle hands may be the devil’s playground, as the adage goes, but the demonic puppet on the left mitt of Jason (Boyer) is a frenzy of destructive activity. Unlike the shy, sensitive Christian teen who ostensibly controls him, Tyrone is foulmouthed, raunchy and hyperaggressive—and increasingly hard to keep in check. After an especially violent incident, Jason’s pastor (Marc Kudisch, unctuously solicitous) and his car crash of a mother, Margery (a complexly sympathetic Carr), think an exorcism may be in order. “Are you the devil?” Jason asks Tyrone. The puppet retorts: “Are you?” That exchange cuts to the core of Robert Askins’s hilarious, wildly irreverent dark comedy. Is Jason possessed or finally free?
Behind its wired barbs of shock comedy—including puppet sex that makes Avenue Q look like Jane Austen—Hand to God is a smart, philosophically engaging character study with neo-Nietzschean overtones. It premiered in 2011 at the Ensemble Studio Theatre, and has been revived for MCC Theater with its major assets intact. Boyer, Carr and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel are now joined by Kudisch as well as Michael Oberholtzer and the wryly tangy Sarah Stiles as Jason’s peers. All are very good, but Boyer is flat-out sensational. Touchingly confused as Jason and scarily unhinged as Tyrone—often at the same time—Boyer gives one of the most memorable star turns I’ve ever seen. Curse yourself if you miss it: Talking to the hand has never been this good.—Theater review by Adam Feldman
THE BOTTOM LINE Askins’s dark comedy packs a wicked punch, and Boyer is a wonder.
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This very dark comedy by Robert Askins was both a sell-out and an Obie winner when it appeared at Ensemble Studio Theatre a couple of years ago, so it is easy to understand why MCC has brought it back in a new production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. A Texas church includes a puppet ministry among its programs. Margery (Geneva Carr) is a recent widow who tries valiantly to interest three teenagers in her puppetry class. Pastor Greg (Marc Kudisch) has a yen for Margery, as does Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer), one of her students. Her other students are the nerdy Jessica (Sarah Stiles) and Margery's shy son Jason (Steven Boyer) whose attachment to his demonic hand puppet Tyrone is, to put it mildly, extreme. Is the foul-mouthed violent Tyrone the devil or just an expression of Jason's (or humanity's) dark side? When Jason and Tyrone end up in hand to hand combat, who will win? There is much to admire here -- a lively script, a fine cast (especially Boyer), smooth direction by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the spot-on set design by Beowulf Boritt and costumes by Sydney Maresca. At times the playwright tries too hard to shock. The coarseness of the language and the bloodiness of the action go further than necessary to make their point. There are some extremely entertaining scenes along the way, but I'm not sure where it all leads
Anything Mr. Feldmen writes is suspect, usually tainted by his unbridled rage issues, however, he happens to be correct this time.