Tony nominated Best Play “Hand to God” is a disturbing, psychotic and demented play – and I loved every minute of it.
The story, set in a rural Texas town’s church’s multi-function room, is of a widowed mother who is trying to put her life back on the path to normal as she helps children deal with their own issues through puppet therapy. Sounds normal enough. But this mother has a few issues of her own to work out and one of the quiet children in her care is her own son who actually turns from innocent to satin in the snap of the fingers. Well, maybe not a snap as it’s hard for him to snap with a demon puppet on your hand.
Sure it sounds like an oddly grim drama. But this is a comedy – and to the highest degree.
Playwright Robert Askins manages to bring unsavory topics of death and molestation to the forefront and makes it funny. Many people will be disturbed by his dipping his toe in the pool of controversy – especially when all of this takes place in a church where the devil in the form of a puppet comes to wreck havoc.
But Askins’ sardonic and sublime dialog makes every scene funny and it’s hard to resist his temptation to the humorous side of sick.
Director Moritz von Steulpnagel gets the joke and helps keep the actors on balance between believability and absurdity. It’s no wonder that three of the cast members are also nominated for Tony Awards, even though their experience on the Broadway stage is limited.
In her Broadway debut, Geneva Carr is an expert comedic talent, playing the mother who may be all cookies and cream on the outside but more tequila and lime on the inside. While she sweetly averts passes from the church’s pastor (seasoned actor Marc Kudisch), she’s able to get sexually abusive and quite frankly very masochistic with student Michael Oberholtz. Their scenes together are definitely not politically correct and you feel guilty about laughing.
Steven Boyer, as Carr’s son Jason, is an amazing talent – thank goodness the producers stuck with him in the lead part as it went from a regional play to off-Broadway to Tony nominee. Boyer does a superb job vacillating between confused and timid Jason and the anti-Christ of a hand puppet Tyrone. With an unparalleled comic timing, he’s also spot-in with the mastering of puppetry, creating a second great performance from Tyrone, who can easily kick the asses of everyone on “Avenue Q.”
Also transferring from the original cast is Tony nominee Sarah Stiles as Jessica, another puppetry student. Stiles deadpan delivery makes everything she say a laugh-out-loud riot.
This cast makes for the perfect ensemble in a production that excels on every details. Set designer Beowulf Boritt deserves a special mention for creating what actually seems like a multi-purpose room at a church. The audience actually spends several minutes during the beginning of the second act laughing at the set changes that occurred due to Tyrone’s rampage. Stuffed animals and dolls now have penises and boobs drawn on them and a sign that read “God listens!” in the first act now reads “God listens to Slayer” in the second act.
Tony season makes New York abuzz with excitement. A lot of attention for Best Play has been directed towards the wonderful “Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” But I wouldn’t rule out “Hand to God” as its bite is much worse than its bark.
Get more information and tickets at www.handtogodbroadway.com.