Hand to God
Lucille Lortel Theatre
Until Sun Mar 30
Photograph: Gerry Goodstein
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Posted: Mon Mar 19 2012
After a successful, widely acclaimed 2011 premiere at Ensemble Studio Theatre, Robert Askins's wild, dark comedy gets another outing, courtesy of MCC Theater. Mauritz von Stuelpnagel returns to the director's chair, joined by two original lead actors: the superb Steven Boyer as a troubled teenage Christian puppeteer and Geneva Carr as his tightly wound mom.
[Note: The review below is for the version of Hand to God that played at Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2011–12.]
If Satan was once an angel, then Tyrone is in top-tier company. The trash-talking hand puppet of Robert Askins's outrageous but disjointed Hand to God is a fright to behold, with a shock of bright red hair, button eyes and flailing arms. He's the demon part of a Texas Christian puppet ministry (a type of Bible school) run by recently widowed, breakdown-waiting-to-happen Margery (Geneva Carr). Tyrone turns the tables on his handler, Margery's shy 15-year-old son, Jason (Steven Boyer), insulting and belittling everyone around him, including his mom, his nemesis (Bobby Moreno), their pastor (Scott Sowers) and the girl Jason's crushing on, Jessica (Megan Hill). Maybe Tyrone is Jason's dark side longing to break free.
This wickedly twisted premise unfortunately strays far from the path of logic, putting shock ahead of sense. Even if you go along with Jason's sweet, stressed mom having sex with one of her charges, it's a long jump that she would later straddle him on the pastor's desk, then rip pages out of a Bible in frustration. And though hilariously enacted by Jason's and Jessica's hands, a bout of raunchy puppet copulation undercuts their potentially tender exchange.
Moritz von Stuelpnagel and his committed cast throw themselves full throttle into the melee, sometimes heightening, sometimes overpowering the narrative, which, like Askins's 2009 Princes of Waco, features a young male dealing with the loss of his father. Watching Boyer play both Jason and Tyrone, however—switching back and forth between contrasting personae with ease and vast vocal range—is a big hallelujah. The dichotomy between innocence and wickedness resounds with unearthly force. –Diane Snyder