To my mind, this raucous comedy is the best new American play in many a moon (the only one this decade I liked more is Douglas Carter Beane’s The Nance). Playwright Robert Askins shows us what happens when a teenage boy’s puppet at a Texas Christian Puppet Ministry starts revealing his darkest urges.
What comes across most profoundly is the price one pays for repressing one’s feelings – especially the way they inevitably return in other, even darker, forms. In Hand to God that form is the foul-mouthed puppet Tyrone. While he may be nothing more or less than the way the unconscious mind of teen Jason (Steven Boyer) expresses its hungers for sex and revenge, it’s clear that Jason experiences Tyrone as nothing short of a virulent, unwanted demonic possession.
Askins has created something truly hilarious, terrifying and memorable in Tyrone. Wily, possessed of razor-tongued eloquence and guttural rage, Tyrone shocks and scandalizes because he constantly speaks the dangerous truths that the Midwestern American mind is at such great pains to avoid.
Boyer gives an undeniable tour de force performance. He intertwines with painful precision Tyrone’s witty venom and Jason’s quiet desperation, and the show as a whole benefits immensely from his prodigious skill as a puppeteer
Geneva Carr, as proud nerd Margery, is the evening’s other great puppeteering talent. When one of her creations distracts Tyrone with puppet sex – so that she can talk to Jason without having to go through Tyrone – the result is more skillful (and filthier) physical comedy than you would have thought two arms could create.
Through the medium of bawdy, bloody comedy, Askins engages with deeply serious issues, such as the costs of giving into the demands of society and organized religion. This is one of my favorite things to find in the theatre: belly laughs and serious thought happening simultaneously. Highly, highly recommended.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.