The Foul Puppet of Broadway

A review of the new Broadway Comedy Hand to God by Dylan Hans

After five consecutive minutes of puppet intercourse I realized this is an uncomfortable place to be with your parents

Hand to God is that back alley creep that found his way to Broadway and scared everyone with laughter and unadulterated  shock.
Hand to God is that back alley creep that found his way to Broadway and scared everyone with laughter and unadulterated shock.

The new Broadway comedy, Hand to God, draws a perfectly clear religious line and then jumps back and forth over it like a game of hopscotch. Writer Robert Askins and director Moritz Von Stuelpnagel tell the story of an inquisitive, troubled, but overall good-hearted student, Jason (Steven Boyle), who finds an outlet for his burgeoning creativity at the Christian Puppet Ministry in the devoutly religious, relatively quiet small town of Cypress, Texas.

Jason’s life gets complicated after his father passes of a heart attack and is left with his neurotic mother, a school bully, the girl next door, the town pastor, and his demonic puppet Tyrone – who takes on a shockingly vulgar and dangerously volatile personality all on his own.

Steven Boyle, center stage, as boy Jason: a gentle young Texas boy who got way too into puppet class.
Steven Boyle, center stage, as boy Jason: a gentle young Texas boy who got way too into puppet class. These five actors make up the whole cast.

Hand To God explores true notions of family, faith, morality, sin, and the calming qualities that tie us to our neighbors, and questions how fragile those relationships are. We are forced to question what is good and what is bad, and whether we truly want to do good, or is evil just too much fun?

What was most stunning about the play was its dark humor. At first, I didn’t know how to react. Jokes on death and loneliness were met with tears and awkward silences. We were stuck in a sad boy’s world, and we like him, were along for the ride, our driver his puppet.

The dark jokes were increasingly outrageous. I am not sure any theater goer will be prepared for the uncomfortable poking of deeply buried humor that fuels each pivotal scene. Jason’s natural gift for puppetry helps deliver the faithless, sexualized humor, and a phenomenal recreation of the Abbott and Costello classic routine, “Who’s on First.”

Jason and Tyrone having one of their many "heart-to-hearts"
Jason and Tyrone having one of their many “heart-to-hearts”

The play asks the audience to question our own morality. We all have demons and secrets locked away, roasting— waiting for the time to break free and burn something down. Robert Askins brings that out over the course of two hours. Each character holds back emotions that are in constant turmoil, and nothing seems to be off limits, with statutory rape and issues of of homosexuality layered under every “fuck, shit, or fag” joke.

Askins and von Stuelpnagel keep you on the edge of your ass poised to hear the next messed up jab at Jason, while allowing the characters to keenly move throughout the entire stage.

In the unleashing of the puppet Tyrone, who is absolutely a character in himself, the play suggest that we all have unruly, violently sexual ids and aggressive libidos that only struggle and provocation of internal issues, or death can unravel.

Tyrone
The Lovable…Tyrone

Tyrone is the most fascinating and exciting of characters in Hand To God, because he is the loudest, the voice of transgression, all the while attached to Jason’s hand. Steven Boyle masterfully makes it seem as if there are two characters on stage when it is just he and Tyrone, and truthfully there are. Jason presents the kind hearted soul who truly doesn’t want to harm anyone but passively holds back his issues with puppetry, his life, and importantly, his troubled mother. Tyrone, lucky for us, brings all that out and then some more, the audience is left laughing and gasping while watching Tryone destroy all that is holy in a wholesome, church-going town.

For someone who cannot watch rated R movies, this is definitely not for you. But for the rest of us it is a very engaging emotionally important work. Jason’s gentle spirit is constantly challenged by the devilish thoughts that corrupt all our minds.

Hand To God
Booth Theater
222 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036
http://handtogodbroadway.com/
May – July, 2015

Running time: 1 hour and 55 minutes (one intermission)

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