BWW Review: The Alley Theatre's HAND TO GOD Is Funny (Hand to God)
SPOILER ALERT: I loved this show! Usually when writing a review, I bury the lead. That way, hopefully, you'll read three or four paragraphs before you get to whether or not I liked it, and why. This time I'm giving that away up front. If you'd like to know why, read on.First of all, it's freaking funny! Laugh out loud, tears-in-your-eyes, dangerously close to wetting your pants funny. Audience members with their hands over their mouths, looked at each other as though they can't believe what they just heard, and that they're actually laughing at it. And secondly, it's hilariously dirty. It's definitely not for the faint of heart, and if you have the slightest tendency to be offended by the outrageous, this show is not, repeat NOT for you. I guess I should set the stage a bit. Margery (Elizabeth Bunch) is a newly-widowed mother of a teenage son, searching for a meaning in life "Somewhere in Texas where the country meets the city.", according to the program. She hopes to find it in the basement of a suburban church where she has corralled her son, Jason (Steve Pacek), tween Jessica (Emily Trask) and misfit Timothy (Jay Sullivan) into a trio of puppeteers for the Lord, with the view of presenting uplifting Christian puppet shows for the edification of the Congregation. Things do not go as planned. Jason's satanic sock puppet, Tyrone, refuses to leave Jason's hand, eventually taking over and wreaking havoc on everything and everybody in a frenzy of profane action that threatens to destroy all. Margery's hopes of redemption are smashed as she struggles to maintain her good intentions while succumbing to her baser instincts. The bumbling but well-intentioned Pastor Greg (Michael Brusasco) only makes things worse. There is something about the f-bomb coming from a puppet's mouth that makes it irresistibly funny. Maybe it's the unexpected. Maybe it's the shock. Maybe it's the subliminal notion that it's not a real person, and therefore cannot be held responsible. I'm not sure. But somehow it gives you permission to laugh at the most unacceptable things, and it's a profound liberation.
Tyrone/Jason/Pacek plays it for all it's worth. In a tour de force of acting/puppeteering; Pacek and Tyrone become one and the same, and the combination is seamless. It is impossible to separate them, and that makes the entire conceit believable. In fact, his performance is a master class in the theatrical concept of the suspension of disbelief.And it allows the other actors to play against him as though it was all absolutely real. Margery despairs and ultimately triumphs as she sees what she has created. Timothy succumbs to love, however inappropriate it may be. Pastor Greg must come to grips with his most fundamental beliefs, and the always level-headed Jessica deals with Tyrone via her own demon alter ego femme fatale puppet in an X-rated climax that will leave you breathless. The hapless Jason is finally released and Tyrone is vanquished. Or is he?
Playwright Robert Askins has created one for the books, and director Mark Shanahan has realized it perfectly. A special shout-out to costume designer David C. Woolard, for dressing Margery as though she stepped right out of a Ross's ad in those sadly drooping outfits.And did I mention that it's funny?HAND TO GOD continues through September 18. The production contains explicit language, profanity, sexual situations, and very rude puppets. Mature audiences only. For tickets, please visit alleytheatre.org. Run time is approximately 1 hour and 38 minutes with one intermission.
Photo Credit: Lynn Lane