Hand To God
Calderwood Pavilion, Boston
Through February 4th
Reviewed by Bobby Franklin
Waiting for the curtain to rise for Hand To God I was listening to the usual pre theatre check list regarding shutting off cell phones and noting the exits. The speech was given in what “enlightened” people in the cities believe is a rural accent, with references to Jesus. I thought, oh here we go, another play that takes plenty of cheap shots at the “uneducated” working class that is motivated by a multitude of “isms” when they vote. You know, those hayseeds who cling to their guns and Bibles.
My fears were not realized. While I could see that many believers would be offended by much of the humor in the play, it wasn’t gratuitous. This is a very dark and disturbing comedy that looks into the lives of five characters who are struggling to find answers and meaning in their lives. Primarily, Margery (Marianna Bassham), who has recently lost her husband, and her son Jason (Eliot Purcell) who is struggling with the loss of his father.
Margery runs a Christian puppet theatre at the local church and Jason is one of the puppeteers. Things start to go off the rails when Tyrone, the sock puppet Jason manipulates starts to take on a life off his own. Tyrone does not mince words. He is vulgar, vicious, violent, blunt, and truthful. It appears to the other members of the church, as well as the audience, that demonic possession may be at play here. And that is what is at the core of this very funny and unsettling play; Should we listen to that dark side when it speaks to us? Though we say we want to hear the truth, do we often feel so uncomfortable with it that we write it off as something the devil has created?
Eliot Purcell as Jason/Tyrone is superb. In what must be a very difficult role that involves many scenes where he has to play opposite his hand, he nails it.
Marianna Bassham as Margery and David Ladani Sanchez as the unruly teen Timothy are hysterical in the scene where they lust after each other while tearing up the puppet theater. Bassham is also touching in conveying the hurt and loss Margery is suffering.
Lewis D. Wheeler as Pastor Greg and Josephine Elwood as Jessica are also well cast.
Ironically, as the play concludes the author, Robert Askins, found the need to become a bit preachy himself. This was not needed and actually seemed to be a bit hypocritical.
This play is not for everyone. The language is quite vulgar and the fun made of “uneducated”believers who eat at Chick-fil-a, while not over the top, will offend many.
It would be interesting to attend a performance with a group of devout Christians and then have a talk back afterwards. The results of that conversation may be surprising. And, after all, isn’t theatre about getting people to think about things and then listen to each other’s views? I think it would be fun.