Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Hand to God ***

This very dark comedy by Robert Askins was both a sell-out and an Obie winner when it appeared at Ensemble Studio Theatre a couple of years ago, so it is easy to understand why MCC has brought it back in a new production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. A Texas church includes a puppet ministry among its programs. Margery (Geneva Carr) is a recent widow who tries valiantly to interest three teenagers in her puppetry class. Pastor Greg (Marc Kudisch) has a yen for Margery, as does Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer), one of her students. Her other students are the nerdy Jessica (Sarah Stiles) and Margery's shy son Jason (Steven Boyer) whose attachment to his demonic hand puppet Tyrone is, to put it mildly, extreme. Is the foul-mouthed violent Tyrone the devil or just an expression of Jason's (or humanity's) dark side? When Jason and Tyrone end up in hand to hand combat, who will win? There is much to admire here -- a lively script, a fine cast (especially Boyer), smooth direction by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the spot-on set design by Beowulf Boritt and costumes by Sydney Maresca. At times the playwright tries too hard to shock. The coarseness of the language and the bloodiness of the action go further than necessary to make their point. There are some extremely entertaining scenes along the way, but I'm not sure where it all leads. Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes, including intermission.

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