Hand to God Review - A Devilish New Comedy

 

Nina Ganet, Alex Weisman

 

Victory Gardens Theater opens its 2016-17 season with the Chicago premiere of Hand to God, the raunchy, puppet-centric comedy by Robert Askins that rocketed to notoriety with its recent Broadway run, earning several Tony nominations, including one for Best Play. In a church in Cypress, Texas, a Christian puppet ministry goes very awry very quickly when puppet Tyrone takes on a life of its own. Hilarious, provocative, and darkly philosophical, this fast-paced satire brings an entirely new meaning to the phrase “the devil made me do it.”

 

Alex Weisman, Curtis Edward Jackson, Nina Ganet

 

After the death of his father, Jason has been struggling to cope, and running a Christian puppet ministry is all that is holding his mother, Margery together—until it isn’t anymore. Faced with conflicting emotions about the loss of his father and the strain of trying to support his distressed mother, Jason finds that he has an entirely new problem on his hands (literally) when his puppet, Tyrone, becomes possessed and wreaks havoc on the church and its members. Underneath the satanic symbols, burst lightbulbs, and puppet sex are essential questions about human nature and the ways we handle loss.

 

Nina Ganet, Alex Weisman

 

The characters of Hand to God operate on the levels of caricature and flawed humanity simultaneously, and the cast handles this duality deftly. Curtis Edward Jackson as Timothy is every ounce an angsty, lecherous teenager, yet there is a hint of tenderness in him as well. Nina Ganet creates gentleness and saavy in teenage love interest and puppet enthusiast Jessica that brings a much-needed dose of groundedness to the story. Eric Slater as Pastor Greg creates a weak-willed, religiously devoted contrast to the other, wilder characters.

 

Nina Ganet

 

Janelle Snow brings the full force of a Southern matriarch to the troubled Margery, as well as a humanity that makes it possible to understand, if not condone, even her most immoral decisions. Most impressive of all is Alex Weisman, who plays both Jason and Tyrone in a marathon performance that never relents in its forward energy and starkness of contrast between the soft-spoken Jason and the unfiltered and sometimes menacing Tyrone.

 

Janelle Snow, Curtis Edward Jackson

 

The design work on this production is remarkable. Any show fresh off Broadway is likely to have demanding tech requirements, and the Victory Gardens production and design team brings precision and attention to detail to the show’s more unique design needs. Special effects like exploding light bulbs and bursts of blood are executed cleanly and create surprising and hilarious moments. Scenic design by Joe Shermoly enables quick changes between a number of detailed locations, and a stained glass-style piece above the set creates both lovely images and symbolic meaning. Puppet design and direction by Daniel Dempsey and Rachel Christianson are, of course, essential to the performance and are executed in glorious detail.  

 

Nina Ganet, Alex Weisman, Janelle snow, Curtis Edward Jackson

 

It is no surprise that Victory Gardens extended the run of Hand to God before it even opened; this exceptional piece of theatre bursts at the seams with unexpected hilarity, troubling philosophical perspective, a strong current of darkness, and moments that shock in a way that seems almost impossible in our violence- and sex-saturated world. Hand to God is an unapologetic explosion of a play, and Chicago is rightfully eager to get their tickets to see it.

 

Alex Weisman. All photos by Liz Lauren

 

Ticket Information

Regular run: September 24 - October 16, 2016

Extension: October 18-23, 2016

Second extension: October 25-30, 2016

Schedule:  Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 2:00 pm (except October 5); 7:30pm (October 5 only), Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 3:00 pm; 7:30pm, Sundays at 3:00 pm

Accessible Performances:  Word for Word (open caption) performances Friday, September 30 at 7:30pm. Saturday, October 1 at 3:00pm, and Wednesday, October 5 at 2:00pm

Audio Description performances Friday, September 30 at 7:30pm (Touch tour at 6:00pm), Sunday, October 9 at 3:00pm (Touch tour at 1:30pm)

ASL Interpreted and Word for Word (open caption) performance Friday, September 30 at 7:30pm

Location:  Victory Gardens Biograph Theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood

Tickets: $15 - $60

Box Office: The Box Office is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. 773.871.3000; The Victory Gardens website

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