"Hand to God" Broadway Review - A sock on a Mission

OK.  Take what you know and expect of a 'typical' Broadway play and throw it out the window. Once you step foot into the Booth Theater on 45th Street, the first thing you should do is visit the restroom.  Beware; if you don't, you may find yourself trying to determine 'when' would be the best time to 'go.'  You do have the intermission, but, note, so does everyone else.

Might I begin by saying that if you want to take your 94 year-old mother to see this production, forget it; but, if you want to take any other living, breathing soul, who's ever said the 'F' word, go and see Hand to God.

You enter the theatre toe-tapping to the rhythmic country music playing for the enjoyment of the audience.  Don't let the music mislead you.  The rest is the best to come.

 

Steven Boyer in a scene from Robert Askins' HAND TO GOD on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

It may not be a surprise to discover that the play’s author, Robert Askins, was nicknamed “Dirty Rob” as an undergraduate at Baylor, a Baptist-affiliated university where there was sexual explicitness and violence in his early scripts.  He may not be a name you recognize but with the Tony Awards around the corner, his will be a name you will soon hear, and will be talking about for a long time to come.

Before you is a very simple, but very explicit stage; typical of what you would see in an everyday Christian-themed room that might sit in a basement of any Church in town.  Beowulf Borit's smart set works to every degree to imitate a cheery basement rec room of a Lutheran church in Cypress, Texas with walls bedecked with colorful "God Loves You" art.   But, this is not just a room.  It is the rehearsal room for the upcoming "Christketeer's" puppet show.  If you are expecting a Muppet-like show, consider the Cookie Monster as a vicious, serial cursing, raunchy, frightening, hand puppet that takes over the left arm of Jason (Steven Boyer).  Boyer actually has the two leading roles in this production, and he plays them both with pure perfection.

Under the direction of Moritz von Stuelpnagel, this production goes by in lightening speed and two hours seems like minutes as you are swept up in the humor and terror that is Tyrone.

Tyrone and Jason can even perform the classic Abbott and Costello, 'Who's on First" flawlessly.  Damn, that sock can be funny.   Boyer is an actor who has incredible talent.  He is pure, quiet, shy Jason except for Tyrone the evil sock, whose mission in life it is to make sure that every word or action Jason wishes he had, Tyrone possesses to the ultimate max.  Even though Boyer moves his lips when his left hand puppet comes alive, which is all the time, it doesn't matter much because you believe from the moment this puppet takes control, you've got a Jekyll and Hyde situation and it ain't pretty.  Boyer doesn't miss a beat as his puppet drives him to insanity.  Is the puppet his alter-ego?  I hope not.  But, some of it just might be.  You'll see.  If you think this is another Avenue Q, up the ante on this one.

 

Geneva Carr, Sarah Stiles, Marc Kudisch, Steven Boyer, and Michael Oberholtzer in a scene from Robert Askins' HAND TO GOD on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus

 

Jason's mother, Margery, played perfectly by Geneva Carr, has recently lost her husband. She's sad and grieving.  She may never have sex again, at least until the end of the first act.  But nothing in this play is ordinary.  It's the extreme.  Pastor Greg, played by Marc Kudisch, is hot for Margery. Timothy, played by Michael Oberholtzer, is not the brightest bulb in the socket.  He's hot for Margery too.  Poor Margery.  Who will she choose? 

The girl next door, Jessica, played by Sarah Stiles is hot for Jason, but would rather date him minus Tyrone, who spews every evil word in the book, and, when he shows his teeth, it's damn scary.  All the Twilight Zones I've ever seen with dolls coming to life could learn a thing or two from Tyrone.  I was 13 when Psycho came out in theaters and, 54 years later, I still can't shower without locking the bathroom door.  Now, thanks to Tyrone, I may never wear socks again.

This show moves so quickly that the actors barely have a chance to breathe.  Each one, including the Pastor, has their 'secrets'.  Leave it to Tyrone to break through the barriers, but not without blood and guts.  Oh yes, and let's not forget the puppet sex on stage.  Yes, puppet sex - explicit puppet sex.  And, might I say, perfectly animated by 2 very horny socks.

When all else fails, cover your eyes, because Jason will stop at nothing to remove this evil sock from his arm. He's already bitten off Timothy's ear, which Margery sews on with knitting wool.  What else could she use?  It's a room where puppets are made.  You got to use what you got.

There's even an attempt to perform an exorcism, as the room slowly turns into an evil dungeon of 666's and "Hail Satan" posters.  Let's not forget the lovely, cuddly stuffed animals that were in the room before Tyrone went on a tyrant.  Let's just say, I didn't know stuffed animals bled, especially from their eyes.

 

Geneva Carr, Sarah Stiles, Marc Kudisch, Steven Boyer, and Michael Oberholtzer in a scene from Robert Askins' HAND TO GOD on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Shall I reveal how if or how Tyrone gets 'disengaged' from Jason's arm?   Why spoil the fun?   My question is, does it take an evil sock to perform cognitive therapy?  

Have I forgotten something?  Yes.  I laughed myself silly all through this production.  It seems unnatural since I was scared to death for most of the second act.  Yet, I don't feel strange since the entire audience laughed along with me.   There were a few patrons behind me who, during intermission, couldn't wait to leave as they were 'shocked' by the 'dirty language.'  Well, when intermission was over, there they were, back in their seats.  Hypocrites.  Perfect for this show. 

In closing, if you ever thought that being haunted by an evil sock was crazy, don't leave your seat until the show is 'absolutely' over.  And then, go your merry way, but don't look behind you.

Hand to God is currently playing on an open-ended run at the Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th Street.  Go see it!

  • Costume Designer, Sydney Maresca
  • Lighting Designer, Jason Lyons
  • Sound Designer, Jill BC DuBoff
  • Puppet Designer, Marte Johanne Ekhougen

 Hand to God website

 

Photos: Courtesy of "Hand to God"

 

 

 

 

 

                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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