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4/8/15

Hand to...OH MY FUCKING GOD

A demonic sock puppet dark comedy. On Broadway. This exists.

Actually, let me rephrase…a delightful, hilarious, surprising and harrowing demonic sock puppet dark comedy. On Broadway. Still processing? Take your time.


Hand to God - now open at the Booth Theatre - is so good that Broadway is better just because it is there. It’s a rare find of a show no matter what theatre or company opts to produce it (which basically describes Hand to God’s last four years of readings and small theaters and MCC’s Off-Broadway run last spring), but the fact that it is on Broadway? Wow. Just wow.

It’s an ambitious little show and it earned my full support. Once the line <southern drawl> “You’re so far in the closet, you’re in Narnia” </southern drawl> was uttered a minute or so into the show - sending me into the biggest giggle-fit - I was sold. Little did I know at the time, that was probably the most normal, mundane thing ever said in Hand to God.

I know. I. KNOW.

Shit gets cray cray. CRAY FUCKING CRAY to be exact. A possessed sock puppet named Tyrone becomes a permanent fixture to the hand of Jason, a young teen who succumbed to depression after his father passed away, and the combination of the two reeks havoc on their church/sock puppet class in a Texas town. For all of Hand to God’s strengths (and there are a lot of ‘em), the most refreshing aspect is…well, I’ve never seen anything like this before and had no idea where it was going.

The story subverts any expectation just as soon as you think of it. Is the sock puppet really possessed or is it the not-so-healthy outlet for Jason’s demons? Is Jason mentally ill? These are the central questions that Robert Askins addresses throughout the show and it unfolds superbly. In fact, when the show wasn’t being off-your-rocker bonkers or laugh-out-loud hilarious, it tapped into a thought-provoking study of religion, especially a skeptical and cynical teen’s perspective of it, and a shrouding sense of sadness when you look at Jason’s life (and his mother's, to a lesser extant). Askins could have kept it farcical (and twisted) and intense (and twisted. Again), but there are nuances in Hand to God that providing a contrasting heartfelt tone without being uneven. The result? I was enthralled, start-to-finish.

And I literally mean "to-finish” because the penultimate scene is an "OH MY FUCKING GOD," audible gasps, jaw-dropping, “have the medic on standby” moment for the ages. And the epilogue? "OH MY FUCKING GOD" PART TWO, WHAT EVEN WAS THAT???...There have been some frightening moments depicted on stage to scare the bejeezus out of an audience (someone getting shot in the head or sexually assaulted, for instance), but never to that extreme and in back-to-back moments.

Rather then spoil and/or speculate more about the story, I’d rather just marvel about the cast on hand. As Jason and Tyrone are devouring the stage with their dual act, Steven Boyer is giving an unreal tour-de-force performance. It is easy to forget that he is operating and voicing Tyrone at the same time as acting as Jason, so distinctive is both characters and voices and every one of his movements so calculated and collected. The whole schtick demands a lot and looks taxing from a mental standpoint, but Boyer never lets up on the gas pedal…and that’s saying something considering the dark places his character(s) go to. The thought must cross everyone’s mind after seeing Hand to God…"how does he DO THAT eight times a week?”

If you can avert your eyes away from the Boyer masterclass - I know it’s hard, but just try lovely reader - Sarah Stiles and Michael Oberholtzer are on hand to be awesome as well. Stiles plays Jessica, Jason’s potential love interest, and all of her character’s wise-cracking moments to perfection. There wasn’t a single moment in the entire show when I did not LOVE. HER. Oberholtzer, as a douschey, horny, bullying teen that makes enemies with Jessica and Jason/Tyrone, was spot-on with his character’s young vernacular and cock-of-the-walk strut. His pursuits of Jason’s mom (oh yeah, that happens) were never not funny and Oberholtzer has great tension and chemistry (tensionstry!) with every cast member.

Beowulf Boritt knows a thing or twenty about mobile sets (Act One, most notably) and Hand to God is no exception. The different settings have their own back-drop and space it seems, which is impressive considering the Booth Theatre, for all of its intimate appeal, doesn’t lend itself to that sort of expansive presence. Now that I think about it, most sets staged there are immobile - The Velocity of Autumn, The Glass Menagerie, I’ll Eat You Last, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Other Desert Cities. All big set pieces, but no mobility.

Yes, this is what I think about when I write about theatre. I’m a huge-ass fucking nerd, I own it...

Anyways, one of Boritt’s set pieces got an entrance applause and laugh response upon the reveal during the second act. I don’t think there is any greater indication that you delivered in a big way when just the sight of your set design can reduce an audience to hysterics.

Then again, reducing the audience to hysterics is something Hand to God does well and often, in addition to being well-written, well-acted, gritty and occasionally frightening. I invite the show to stay awhile…and not just because I fear Tyrone will descend upon me with the wrath of hell in tow.


Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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