Hindi Greenberg: “Hand to God” will make you laugh, cringe and love it!
March 7, 2019
Raucous, demented, melancholy, diabolical, irreverent, sexual, sacrilegious, funny, vicious and thought-provoking—what more could anyone want from an evening of theater? "Hand to God," the latest production by Sierra Stages, is all of these descriptors and more, performed by a superb cast with excellent technical support.
"Hand to God" was written by Robert Askins and first developed by New York's Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2011. It was then produced Off-Broadway in 2014 and on Broadway in 2015, where it received five Tony Award nominations, including Best New Play. In 2017, Sierra Stages presented this play as a staged reading, apprehensive that it might offend the audience. It was so well-received that they decided to mount this full production.
The play opens with Tyrone, a sock puppet, haranguing the audience about the development of the concept of the devil. The next scene cuts to a church basement in a small Texas town, where Margery, a recent widow, is trying to teach biblical puppetry to her timid son Jason, his secret crush Jessica and the bully Timmy. Only Jason has completed his sock puppet, which he names Tyrone; slowly Tyrone takes on its own persona and speaks what Jason and others are thinking but cannot or will not say. Tyrone's comments often reveal Jason's underlying thoughts but in language that embarrasses Jason and shocks those around him—is Tyrone Jason's true self or the devil?
The relationships and action become increasingly fraught and Tyrone becomes more outspoken and aggressive until there's a showdown with Jason himself. In between, there is hilarious and graphic sex between puppets, propositions accepted and rejected, along with truth, sadness and general mayhem.
While all five actors are first rate, Danny McCammon as Jason/Tyrone is superlative. He speaks in Jason's timid voice, then growls as Tyrone, rapidly shifting from one persona to the other without missing a beat. Although McCammon's mouth moves when voicing Tyrone, he so effectively operates the sock puppet's mouth and arm movements that you'd swear the fabric creature was speaking.
Lois Masten Ewing imbues Margery with believable anxiety, anger, peevishness and concern—the scene between her and Timmy (played spot-on by Trevor Wade), the teenager whose main preoccupation is with the mid-section of his body, is extremely funny and jaw-droppingly appalling. When shy Jessica, fully embodied by Michaela King, causes her buxom sock puppet Jolene to seduce Tyrone, the audience roared. John Gardiner as Pastor Greg incorporates the right amount of both smarminess and genuine caring.
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Sharon Winegar effectively directs her actors to milk the humor and horror, truthfulness and pandemonium of the play's themes. The puppets and puppetry, wonderfully designed and coached by Ken Miele, the complex and visually interesting scenic design by Peter Mason and Michael Pierce, Paulette Sand-Gilbert's excellent costumes, Les Solomon's effective lighting, and Sharon Winegar and Eric Foote's mood-setting sound design all contribute to this outstanding show. The one and only glitch was some loss of momentum during the blackouts for scene changes.
"Hand to God" plays only through March 16 at the Nevada Theatre, so buy tickets immediately—it is a remarkable and startling play.
Hindi Greenberg doesn't offend easily, so she liked the play very much—it's funny, sad and disquieting. But potential attendees should take note—this play is not for those easily offended by raw or outrageous language or actions.
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