Ensemble Studio Theatre Presents Hand to God, Previews 10/27


The Ensemble Studio Theatre, William Carden, Artistic Director, will present Robert Askins's Hand to God, directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel and featuring Steve Boyer, Geneva Carr, Bobby Moreno, Megan Hill and Scott Sowers, at The Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street, beginning previews Thursday, October 27, at 7:00pm for an opening Monday, October 31, at 7:00pm. Hand To God is produced by Ensemble Studio Theatre/Youngblood, the theatre's company of playwrights under 30.

Christian Puppet Ministries are, in fundamentalist Christian congregation, normally a great way to teach children about the Bible. Each child gets a puppet, and each puppet gets its own personality. (Google "puppet ministry")

But in Hand to God, playwright Robert Askins, whose last full length play at The Ensemble Studio Theatre was the troubling and acclaimed Princes of Waco (2009), children can be fooled by Satan's tricks. For even within the sanctuary of the Christian Puppet Ministry of Cypress, Texas, the devil lurks; Hand to God tells that story.

Mr. Askins writes about what he knows: he attended Christian puppet ministry as a child in rural Texas. His mother was the teacher. Texas was the territory both of Princes of Waco and his one-act play for the Ensemble Studio Theatre's Marathon 2010, Matthew and the Pastor's Wife. "When I first saw the play, I thought, 'how did Rob make this up?' says Mr. Carden. "But it turns out that he grew up in that world. And he knows it very well."

Yes, like Catherine Trieschmann's (the widely-acclaimed crooked and the upcoming How the World Began, both at Women's Project), the themes of his recent plays revolve around his fundamentalist Christian upbringing. But unlike Ms. Trieschmann's plays, Mr. Askins's plays have an anger that sometimes turns violent.

Mr. Askins has had his plays seen in Belfast, Prague, L.A. and Waco. Princes of Waco was featured in Youngblood's Unfiltered Festival 2008 before making it to the Ensemble Studio Theatre mainstage in January of 2009. His Matthew and the Pastor's Wife was a part of Marathon 2010 and his Everything is Ruthless was read at the Horton Foote American Playwriting Festival. His Doll Parts was read with the Write Club sponsored by Arlene Dahl. Mr. Askins has a degree in Performance from Baylor University and he has received two Ensemble Studio Theatre/Sloan grants, and an Arch and Bruce Davis Award for Playwriting.

Rebecca Lord-Surratt is designing sets, Matthew Richard, lights, and Sydney Maresca, costumes. Chris Barlow is designing sound and Marte Johanne Ekhougen is puppet consultant.

The Ensemble Studio Theatre < www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org> is a not-for-profit developmental Theatre Incorporated in 1972 with two primary goals: to nurture individual theatre artists and to develop new American plays. Under the guidance of the late founder Curt Dempster, the theatre's membership grew from a core of 20 artists to a flourishing community of over 500 theatre artists of the highest caliber. Among them are winners of accolades and higher awards including Pulitzer Prizes, Oscars, Tonys, Emmys, and Obies. The Ensemble Studio Theatre is a lifelong artistic home for its member playwrights, directors, actors, designers, technical personnel and administrators. Each year, The Ensemble Studio Theatre produces over 300 projects, including readings, workshops and fully produced mainstage full-lengths.

Ensemble Studio Theatre/Youngblood, Graeme Gillis and RJ Tolan, Artistic Directors, is the theatre's company of emerging professional playwrights under 30. For eighteen years Youngblood has nurtured the best new playwriting talent through regular meetings, readings, retreats, workshops and mainstage productions. "There's a growing line of success stories coming out of that program," says Mr. Carden. "We're confident Rob and Hand to God will be the next."

In the last few years there have been dozens of high-profile New York productions of Youngblood members and recent alums - including, among many others:

Annie Baker won the Obie for Best Playwriting of 2010 for her plays The Aliens and Circle Mirror Transformation, which began in Youngblood's weekly Wednesday night meetings.

Amy Herzog's 4000 Miles will return to Lincoln Center after a run at LCT 3. Her After the Revolution, staged to acclaim at the Williamstown Theater Festival in summer 2010, had an extended run at Playwrights Horizons garnered raves from the New York critics.

Qui Nguyen was recognized in 2010 with an Obie Award for his Vampire Cowboys Theatre company, also named in The Village Voice's "Best of NYC." His play, The Inexplicable Redemption of Agent G, the conclusion of his Vietnamese Boat Trilogy, will return to New York off-Broadway in 2012.

Elizabeth Meriwether is the creator of New Girl starring Zooey Deschannel, now in its premiere season on FOX, and the screenwriter of No Strings Attached, with Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher, which opened #1 at the box office in January 2011.

Christopher Shinn, Obie Award and Lortel winner and Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of Dying City, which moved from London's West End to Lincoln Center and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His recent play Picked ran at the Vineyard Theatre last spring.

Lloyd Suh's American Hwangap was produced on both coasts through a unique co-production between Ma-Yi Theatre in New York and the Magic Theatre in San Francisco. He has two premieres confirmed for 2012: Great Wall Story at the Denver Center and Jesus In India at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco.

Performances for Hand to God are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:00pm, matinees Sunday at 3:00pm through November 19. Pay-what-you-can nights are October 27, 29 (matinee and evening), and 30. Thereafter, all seats are $25. To order tickets call 866.811.4111 or click < www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/134>.

And this season, the Ensemble Studio Theatre is introducing the ESTpass, which is like a Netflix for theatre. Just like a gym membership, ESTpass allows pass-holders to access as many Ensemble Studio Theatre performances as they wish for only $25 a month. People can sign up at http://ensemblestudiotheatre.org/estpass/.

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