Presented by SpeakEasy Stage Company
Written by Robert Askins
Directed by David R. Gammons
Puppetry direction by Roxanna Myhrum
Fight direction by Ted Hewlett
Review by Kitty Drexel
Trigger warning: Devil references, supernatural activity, gore, violence, implied sex with a minor, graphic puppetry
(Boston, MA) Horror gets nastier when it employs kid’s toys. Personally speaking, dolls are the worst, but cinematic history has proved that puppets can be just as creepy. They can be really, super, frickin’ creepy. SpeakEasy’s Hand to God has a puppet. Like the previously referenced horror movies, it gets creepy and weird. Like, Evil Dead chainsaw hand meets Avenue Q levels of weird. It’s awesome.
Devout but wimpy mom, Margery (played with sympathy, and gusto by Marianna Bassham) is at her wit’s end. Her impotent leadership style combined with the loss of her husband has brought her to a lower than low place. Jason (Eliott Purcell), her teenage son in typical teenage style, blames Dad’s death entirely on Margery. She does the only thing she feels she can do: start a puppetry club at her Lutheran church, then force Jason to participate. Jason builds Tyrone. Local horny teenagers Timothy (Dario Ladani Sanchez) and Jessica (Josephine Elwood) are enlisted. Skirt chasing holy man, Pastor Greg (Lewis D. Wheeler) indulges the club. As club membership is open to all comers, Satan joins too.
Askins utilizes pop puppetry references to create a wholly unique play. Hand to God is reminiscent of 1999’s Idle Hands, Carrie, that episode of Alf, “I’m Your Puppet,” and so much more. The play differs in that it uses its foul, raunchy comedy and minor but still graphic gore to reveal the unfortunate truths of religious dogma. When religion manipulates its believers through fear, hate, and greed, religion no longer serves its intended purpose to comfort, and guide. A bastardized moral compass harms instead.
Personal tastes aside, Hand to God is an amazing production. The work by the actors is very well done. Eliot Purcell as Jason/Tyrone is impressively committed to both roles. Jason is adorklably insecure but sweet. Tyrone is a narcissistic bastard who will bite off your nose to spite your face. The dichotomy is hilariously severe and necessary.
One forgets that Purcell is playing both a chaotic evil prop and a neutral good teenager. Their fight scenes (by Ted Hewlett) are physically and emotionally taxing. Purcell makes the fight choreo (conducting while playing two roles with puppet in hand) look like an average day’s work.
The sound design by Andrew Duncan Will is exemplary. It is so subtle, so quietly persistent that it is nearly invisible. Cues to the actors were perfectly timed. Ambient sounds of the stage environment were integrated so seamlessly that the audience didn’t recognize them as cues. Guys, it was brilliant.
The stage design is out of a crafters OCD nightmare. Those with organizing obsessions may want to sit this one out. By the second act, anxious rage will consume you.
If scripture is to be believed, God has given us freewill over our actions and thoughts. That includes projecting those thoughts into a sock puppet named Tyrone, who then uses his supernatural powers to repaint a church basement in his image. It’s much easier to blame Satan than to confront personal issues. It’s much easier to blame your Mom for Dad’s death than to suss out the complicated truths of an imperfect marriage starring impotent parents. A satanic sock puppet could be an outlet for the deeply buried resentment of a teenage boy seeking agency (just like Mom). Satan could be a metaphor for the malicious things people do to each other on purpose (or a tool used by the church to keep congregants subservient). Hand to God teaches us that it’s all much more complicated than that.
Hand to God is set on two levels: orchestra level, and balcony level. The better seats are the ones either in the front balcony, or towards the back of the orchestra. Neck craning may otherwise be in your future.
It should go without saying but, for the love of Xenu mouth kissing Cthulhu, do not bring your kids.
We have elected a tangerine ass-bugle bigot with scrawny hands, thin skin, and terrible hair to the office of the President. The theatre community has every reason to be scared that the national budget for the arts will be slashed. It will be. Certain republicans tend to disrespect experimental, avant-garde, or simply new art. If it challenges the white, straight, hetero status quo, they tend to be against it. New things frighten them with their difference. Belts will need to be tightened. For the love of all that’s sacred, keep creating your art despite this painful bullshit. If you need help, ask for it. Our existence is our resistance. Please keep fighting the good fight. – KD
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