We’ve found religion: Praise be to the divine cast of this devilish comedy’s Chicago premiere.
Robert Askins’s foul-mouthed, gold-hearted comedy begins with a brief sermon by the Devil. Tyrone, the blue-furred shock puppet we’re about to meet attached to the hand of shy, troubled Texas teen Jason (Alex Weisman), takes us briefly through the prehistory of right and wrong, reminding us that they’re societal constructs. That (tinted) view is good prep for what comes after, as Tyrone, the product of a church youth group run by Jason’s mother Margery (Janelle Snow, with a perfectly clipped Texas twang) from the end of her rope, begins to express Jason’s darkest thoughts. Tyrone’s persona is something like Triumph the Insult Comic Dog on a steady diet of hellfire—and no one seems as shocked as Jason himself.
If there’s any miscalculation in Askins’s script, it’s that he lays on the comic blasphemy so strong and so early that by intermission, it seems nothing’s shocking. That’s a false sense of security, as it turns out; the yearning, touching depravity of these Lutherans (including Eric Slater as an unctuous pastor and Curtis Edward Jackson and Nina Ganet as Jason’s fellow teen puppeteers) knows no bounds. Gary Griffin’s Chicago premiere at Victory Gardens, on the other hand, is a heavenly delight, centered on a truly astounding performance by Weisman, persuasively occupying simultaneous dual roles as a trash-talking id monster and a hurting human boy. It's as emotionally affecting as it is technically astonishing. After all the blood is spilled (there’s quite a bit of it), feel free to raise both your hands in praise.
Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. By Robert Askins. Directed by Gary Griffin. With Alex Weisman, Janelle Snow, Eric Slater, Nina Ganet, Curtis Edward Jackson. Running time: 1hr 50mins; one intermission.