Hand To God
A demonic sock puppet delivers a lecture on the nature of good and evil and poop in the basement of a church in a small rural town where the country meets the city. So begins Hand To God, a play written by Cypress, Texas native Robert Askins.
Askins wrote the play while working in New York City at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Hand To God premiered Off-Broadway in 2011 eventually moving to Broadway in 2015. The Alley Theatre presentation is the first production of Hand To God in Texas.
Our irreverent sock hero, Tyrone, is born out of the imagination of Jason (Steve Pacek effortlessly delivering a superb performance that combines different voices and facades), himself the son of church volunteer Margery. A couple of other youngsters, Jessica and Timothy have their own issues. The kids have been given the assignment of making hand puppets to explore their relation to a higher power.
An imaginative staging has a single room that might be found in any church, with desks and shelves and a wall adorned with religious themed posters and drawings. At one point a pair of swings lower from the ceiling and the lighting takes on an autumnal sunset as Jason and Jessica bond in the manner that adolescents form friendships. An even more dynamic set change occurs when the back wall slides away and is replaced by a darker black wall painted with satanic graffiti. “I’ll have blood dripping down the wall,” screams Jason/Tyrone. “That’s okay,” replies the play’s fifth character Pastor Greg. “I’m going to have to repaint anyway.”
The tone always flirts with the absurd. While there are some serious forays into violence and sex, there’s still the comic spine of the narrative being driven by a kid and his googly eyed hand puppet. Hand To God may seem like it wants to repeat what just happened: one moment an ear is chewed off and the next moment a hand is smashed with a hammer; one sex scene takes place off stage while a successive sex scene takes place on stage; and a tour de force sock puppet sex scene goes on for so long that the audience breathes a collective sigh of relief when Tyrone finally climaxes.
Perhaps by the conclusion Hand To God even paints itself into a corner. Tyrone surely is not the Devil and Jason is not so much possessed as a youth going through an awkward phase. Bigger spiritual issues take a backseat to the more intimate story of people dealing with everyday issues of normalcy.
Hand To God runs at the Alley Theatre’s Neuhaus Theater through September 18.