Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Hand to God
Set in a Lutheran church basement room in Cyprus, Texas, the plot finds Margery (Lisa Velten Smith) attempting to teach puppet skills to an unlikely group. Margery, struggling with finances since she lost her husband, has her hands more than overloaded. Actor Nick LaMedica plays Jason, whose puppet Tyrone is pretty much permanently attached to Jason's hand. Timmy (Miles G. Jackson) is a sullen, sometimes obscene young man who has the hots for the much older Margery. Jessica (Maggie Carr) is geeky and her clothing, which doesn't quite fit, is sometimes revealing. Pastor Greg (Peter Benson) will enter the scene and he, too, wishes to bed Margery.
Jason cannot control his puppet, a creature with a mind of his own and a vocabulary laden with filthy but funny words and phrases. Tyrone makes it known that Jason has more than a passing interest in Jessica. It's impossible for Jason to silence the puppet. In fact, Tyrone (forgive me) has the upper hand. Meanwhile, Greg (trying to be suave) comes on, with what he thinks is gentility, to Margery who fully rebuffs him. Instead, she Four out of the five characters on stage, excepting Jessica to some degree, are in obvious pain.
Much of Askins's script, embodied without inhibition at TheaterWorks, is darkly hilarious. These characters are, at times, desperate and masochism is not out of the question. All of this provides vocal outburst opportunities for those watching. The lengthy puppet sex sequence is constantly laugh-inducing. The plot of the show demonstrates that passion is not always constructive.
Hand to God is boldly physical and it demands actors to be willing to partake, say, in a tussle. Thanks to director Brigden and fight choreographer Robert Westley, the TheaterWorks ensemble is fully credible. Luke Cantarella's set is appropriately evocative. He includes church sayings and many more visuals. Stephanie Shaw has expertly designed the puppets. Tracy Christensen's outfits tell stories, too. Margery's wardrobe, for example, must include clothing which comes off or apart easily. Timmy is a tough kid who wears shirts and pants to match his persona.
Where is all of this occurring? Within a Lutheran church and nearby. Hence, faith, by implication, is in question. The same should be said regarding moral standards when it comes to a family. Margery, attempting to cope with what life now offers, is unrestrained. Certainly, a portion of her wishes that she held back her impulses but that is subservient to the Margery who can no longer be ladylike and confined. She has been blamed by both Jason and Tyrone, and she will become, in a sense, liberated.
Nick LaMedica, as Jason and Tyrone, is persuasively effective. Battling his own demons, Jason has an unhinged and satanic puppet on his hand. Jason has some goodness within him, but Tyrone revels as evil. LaMedica speaks, literally, as Jason and as the puppet.
Playwright Robert Askins came from Cyprus, Texas, and was an observant Lutheran. His play, a stunner with depth, takes on its own imaginative life.
Hand to God, through August 26th, 2018, at TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl St., Hartford CT. For tickets, call 860-527-7838 or visit www.twhartford.org.