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New York City Theater

"Hand to God"
Booth Theater

We’re in a Lutheran church “somewhere in Texas where the country meets the city.” The time is “Nowish.” The characters are confused Jason, his frustrated mother Margery, studly Timothy, walflower-ish Jessica and horny Pastor Greg.

Oh, yes, there’s Tyrone, a sock puppet attached to Jason’s arm whom Jason provides with a voice as gruff as his own is gentle. Foul-mouthed, blasphemous, violent, speaking as Jason’s id, the devilish Tyrone will, by the end of the evening, cause physical, mental and spiritual havoc.

This is “Hand to God,” Robert Askins’ hilarious, angry, daring comedy that’s definitely not for the kiddies, unless you want to spend the next year explaining it all. Then you’d surely have to send junior to a therapist.

In the church basement, Margery is trying to prepare a religious puppet act for the congregation. Gathering her “Christcateers,” she’s distracted by her recalcitrant son and her own raging hormones. Feeling abandoned by her recently deceased husband, she’s not much help to Jason, who blames her for hastening his father’s death.

That’s when Tyrone, the sock puppet on Jason’s hand, takes over. Angry, scatological, truth-telling Tyrone is “doing bad things” to Jason, possessing him, controlling him, while seeing through the surrounding hypocrisy. He’s not only expressing what Jason dare not, he’s also a prophet in a world divided between group and individual behavior.

“Nice never got me anything,” says Jason as he and Jessica meet in a sex scene made even more hysterical by their puppets’ vigor and their own seeming indifference. Meanwhile, Margery and Timothy practice their own version of sado-masochism, leading to climaxes of blood and dismemberment.

In a world where love is defined as akin to having brunch, nothing is sacred. Under Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s no-holds-barred direction, the play’s delirium is always kept in check. No matter how berserk, situations and actors remain chillingly coherent and, thus, ever more bizarre.

Steven Boyer is marvelous as the schizoid Jason: vulnerable and troubled as the son, vehement and revengeful as Tyrone. Geneva Carr’s Margery seems always on the verge of splitting in half. Marc Kudisch is an itchy, articulate Greg, Michael Oberholtzer a slick, self-centered Timothy and Sarah Stiles an unsentimental yet touching Jessica.

And Tyrone?  He becomes so real that we agree when he says, “That’s the thing about the devil. You need him. Then you need him to go . . . away.”  The challenging “Hand to God” is like a dentist’s dose of nitrous oxide. You laugh, then you hurt. No, make that laugh and hurt.

--David A. Rosenberg
April 21, 2015

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