Review of Hand to God at Broadway’s Booth Theater 4/30/15

Hand to God is a spiffy, almost breezy, comedy in the tradition of Book of Mormon. That is, until it turns dark at the end.

Ordinarily this might be considered a blitzkrieg of a show ie popular with locals who will sustain it as long as they can, but for a tourist run who knows? The advertising in Times Square acknowledges as much. The billboard touts “No Stars and No London West End Run….pray for us.”

Thankfully the show is outrageous, irreverent and way over the top. It is keenly acted by an excellent 5 person ensemble led by Tony nominee Stephen Boyer. Boyer plays a duel roll as the timid son of a Sunday school teacher with an absolute kick ass alter ego in the form of his hand puppet named Tyrone.

Puppet Tyrone quickly comes to dominate any scene he is in. The audience quickly picks up that Tyrone is everything Boyer’s character Jason is not. With one glaring exception.

Otherwise where Jason is timid and painfully shy, Tyrone is dominant and a force of nature. From a psychological point of view Tyrone channels Jason’s id, ego and superego with insight and blazing ferocity. Tyrone comments on aspects on the musings of Jason’s psyche which the audience might only be dimly aware of. However the audience doesn’t stay dim for long as Tyrone pounds is commentary with increasingly brutal force.

It has been noted that one man’s comedy is another’s tragedy. In this case Jason has recently lost his father and Margery, Jason’s mother, is coping with life as a widow. Margery fends off the lecherous minister of her church. He has charged her with the impossible task of leading 3 adolescents into a church production whereby they make  hand puppets to act out scenes from the Bible. And act out they do. To the chagrin of teacher Margery, one student comes on to her while her giving the opportunity to act out herself. At times she uses her flairs her are as punchy as puppet Tyrone’s as when she calls out the  for example when she calls the minister out on his lame seductions by saying, “You are using the church to try to fuck me.”

But it is Tyrone who has the juiciest role. He gathers in strength and venomous observations. As Jason can’t own his own anguish and rage over the failings of his mother who tries to deal with her issues by imposing a false Up With People cheeriness on the children in her charge, Tyrone only becomes more incisive and able to call out the hypocrisy of everyone he observes. In the same spirit Margery has a moment where she perfectly zings her pestering preacher by charging, You are using the church to fuck me!”

In the climatic scene Jason is presented with a predicament not unlike Luke Skywalker fighting his father. As Darth Vader implores Luke to let his hatred flow unfettered and in so doing Luke watches his hand morph into a biomechanics facsimile of his father’s, so Jason realizes he is in a fight with tyrone for control of his own soul and identity.

Unlike Luke, Jason has not contemplated the hero’s journey a la Joseph Campbell. Jason is left with a dilemma. He can only rid himself of Tyrone if he can integrate Tyrone’s strength and power. However Tyrone has grown with rage unchecked. Jason cannot disavow Tyrone and retain Tyrone’s powers. He is left with the unsavory choice of besting Tyrone by destroying him. But the only way he can destroy Tyrone brings tragic consequences.

The clever writing asks the audience to accept the fate of each character.

Oh and the one exception where Tyrone and Jason mutual inexperience are actually in alignment. Let’s just say it involves hormone charged puppets doing what eventually comes naturally to them. New Yorkers and visitors see this show while they can and may Hand to God do well at the Tonys so it can stick around for the long run it deserves.

 

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