Thursday, July 16, 2015

Hand to God (revisited) ****

Curiosity and a ticket purchased with Audience Rewards points led me to the Booth Theatre to see how well Robert Askins’s dark comedy weathered the trip from Christopher Street to 45th Street. When I heard that the producers planned to move it to Broadway, I thought it was a bad mistake. It seemed much too edgy for Broadway. I assumed that the production would be toned down considerably for the move uptown. I am happy to report that I was wrong on both counts. The show has been running since March to enthusiastic audiences that include large numbers of young people all too rarely seen on Broadway. If anything, the Broadway audience seemed more attuned to the show’s vibe than the downtown audience. Furthermore, the production has not been toned down in the slightest; it’s just as raw as it was off-Broadway. 

Here’s what I said when I gave the MCC production three stars in March 2014:

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.

The play seemed more intense this time. The funny scenes were funnier and the tragic moments were sadder. The excellent cast seemed energized and fresh. Boyer remains absolutely amazing. I still find some of it over the top and a bit muddled, but it is performed with such style and conviction that I have given it another star. 

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