BWW Review: HAND TO GOD at TheaterWorks
Grief can be a very strange thing and people react to traumatic events in very different ways. Some may become reserved and avoid contact with people. Some may turn to their faith for support during trying times. Others, like the young man in TheaterWorks' HAND TO GOD, channel anger, fear and confusion into a demonic and controlling puppet. Yes, you read that right. In Robert Askins' Tony Award nominated play, young Jason and his evil puppet alter ego, Tyrone, wreak havoc on a small Texas church and raunchy, rude hilarity ensues.
HAND TO GOD is one of those plays that you find yourself laughing at while at the same time questioning what it is, exactly, that is happening on stage. It has a way of making you chuckle and have existential thoughts about life, grief, faith and family all at the same time. The story centers around Jason (Nick LaMedica), a young man who has recently lost his father and who, along with his mother, Margery (Lisa Velten Smith) is spending time with a new puppet ministry at their small Lutheran church in Texas. The ragtag group of young puppeteers also includes awkward Jessica (Maggie Carr) and bad boy Timmy (Miles G. Jackson) who would rather be anywhere else than making puppets to tell bible stories with. Through the urgings of Pastor Greg (Peter Benson), the puppet team begins planning for an upcoming performance, and that is when all hell (literally) breaks loose. Jason's puppet Tyrone begins to have a life of his own, urging Jason to do things he wouldn't normally do, and who begins calling all the shots when it comes to Jason's life. Meanwhile, Margery has a crisis of her own involving the romantic advances of both Pastor Greg and young Timmy, all while dealing with the pressures of the pending performance and grief over her loss and her lack of connection with her son. Hilarity ensues and by the end, none of the characters emerge unscathed.
Robert Askins, in his script for HAND TO GOD, tells a well-balanced and off-the-wall story with hilarious situations, extreme language and unlikely outcomes. Tracy Brigden, in directing this production, keeps the action at a good pace and draws out complex characterization from each of her actors (including the puppets). Considering the main character is an evil puppet, Ms. Brigden does a great job helping the audience connect to the situation and laugh with (and yes, even relate to) the situations on stage. The cast is very strong, led by Nick LaMedica as Jason/Tyrone. Mr. LaMedica's physical humor is top notch, and makes you believe that Tyrone is a completely separate entity (and not a puppet sitting on his hand). Many of his scenes involve arguing back and forth with Tyrone and his ability to switch back and forth between characters, voices, and even emotions, is worth applauding. As his mother, Margery, Lisa Velten Smith is flustered, frustrated, confused and absolutely hilarious. Her scenes with Jason are recognizable by any parent who simply doesn't know how to get through to their child (demonic puppet, aside) and her scenes with Miles G. Jackson are really funny. Speaking of, Mr. Jackson does a good job playing whiny bad-boy Timmy, and is particularly funny during a dangerous run in with Tyrone. Maggie Carr is appropriately awkward and shy as Jessica, and as Pastor Greg, Peter Benson is equally awkward in a lovesick and goofy way.
The creative elements of HAND TO GOD are extremely effective and help elevate the play's dark but hilarious tone. Luke Cantarella's turntable set works quite well in creating four distinct settings in the small TheaterWorks space. His projections are also a nice addition to a number of scenes (including the ending). Matthew Richards' lighting is effective and Elizabeth Atkinson's sound design adds additional color to the show, including some very interesting (but effective) song choices for scene changes.
Overall, TheaterWorks' HAND TO GOD is something you won't see every day - a hilarious play about an unlikely (and somewhat absurd) situation delivered with honesty and a glimmer of truth at its core. As director Tracy Brigden says in her program notes, "the very best comedy comes from the most honest places" and HAND TO GOD does just that. It makes you laugh (a lot), ask questions, discover surprising connections to an off-the-wall story, and leave the theater talking. What more can you ask for from a night at the theater?
HAND TO GOD runs at TheaterWorks in Hartford, CT through August 26. TheaterWorks is located at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT 06103. Performances are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. For more information call 860-527-7838 or go to twhartford.org
Top Photo: Nick LaMedica and Tyrone
Mid Photo 2: Maggie Carr and Nick LaMedica
Photo credits: Lanny Nagler