Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque

Hand to God
Only the Puppets Tell the Truth
Fusion Theatre Company

Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Dean's review of Cinderella and Wally's review of Burn This


Poster by Harrison Sim
Texas-born playwright Robert Askins had nice run in New York with Hand to God. After a couple short stints Off and Off-Off-Broadway, the play opened on Broadway in April of last year and was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Play. It was named a NY Times Critics' Pick and called "the most entertaining show of 2014." Understandably. It's plenty entertaining, as well as serious and goofy.

The premise is wonderful. Margery (Jacqueline Reid) and her son Jason (Jamie H. Jung) are struggling to get over Dad's death. They are trying to divert themselves by getting involved in their local small-town Texas fundamentalist Christian church that features a puppet ministry. But things are not going well. Pastor Greg (Bruce Holmes) keeps hitting on Margery, and Margery is lusting for the troubled and outrageous teenager, Timothy (Harrison Sim).

Jason, meanwhile, has found that his puppet named Tyrone has taken on a life of its own, telling harsh and cruel truths that Jason would never be able to express on his own. Meanwhile, Jason is crushing on Jessica (Caroline Graham), a slightly punked girl next door who is part of the puppet group. In response to multiple rejections from Margery, Pastor Greg demands that the puppet group perform in church on Sunday even though they are woefully unprepared.

Everything is rushing toward disaster, and disaster indeed hits. The emotions are credible, the lusts, desires, and hopeless hopes are real, and yet Askins squeezes humor out of the boiling, bubbling stew. The Fusion production is hilarious. Fusion co-founder and director Laurie Thomas has put together a wonderful cast and she keeps the action hopping from beginning to end.

Core Fusion actors Reid and Holmes are terrific as always. Reid well captures this coming-apart widow who turns to lust in her grief while completely failing her son who is drifting further and further into his puppet madness. Holmes tones down his wild-man capabilities to play a stuffy pastor. But his crazy eyes reveal that the pastor isn't quite buttoned down.

The young actors are on fire. Sim is powerful in the crazy-mixed-up-kid role, similar to his turn in the Fusion's Stupid Fucking Bird, only more manic. Jung—who has the meatiest role in the play—delivers well with Jason's sad and frustrated grief, alternating between a repressed and withdrawn boy and his ferocious puppet.

Graham is relatively new to Fusion, having performed in the short-plays collection The Seven. Her performance earlier this year as Ophelia in the Vortex's Hamlet was outstanding, giving the age-old role a bright punkish spin. It's good to see these young actors showing up in Fusion productions. They come in bursting with energy to complement the Fusion's excellent core actors.

Kudos also to the production team, which is very supportive to the drama. Cool set, costumes, lighting, and sound by Robyn Phillips, Richard K. Hogle, Brent Stevens, Laurie Tomas, David Pearson, and Alex Paramo.

Hand to God by Robert Askins is produced by the Fusion Theatre Company. The play runs at The Cell Theatre, 700 1st. St. NW, through September 24, 2016. There will be a special pay-what-you-will performance at the Kimo Theatre at 7:30 on Saturday, September 24. There will also be a Union Night performance on September 22nd at 7 pm, with all seats $25 with any union ID. Tickets are $40, $35 for senior and students. For reservations, go to liveatthecell.com, or call 766-9412. Call 766-9412 for information.


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