Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Hand to GodFlorida Studio Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of Apples in Winter and The Crucible


Harrison Bryan with Tyrone
Photo by Matthew Holler
Florida Studio Theatre begins its Stage III series with Robert Askins' Hand to God. This play began life off Broadway at Ensemble Studio Theatre with runs October 2011 and February 2012. After a 2014 production at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, the play transferred to Broadway in 2015. That year turned out to be a tough one for plays as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (opening this week as part of FST's Mainstage Series) proved a runaway hit and took the Tony Awards for both Best Play and Actor in a Leading Role. Hand to God garnered fine reviews in all its New York productions, most of them giving huge credit to the lead performance by Steven Boyer as Jason/Tyrone. No actor can shine without a playwright giving him a part to stand out in, and the part of Jason/Tyrone is destined to become a King Lear for young men.

Hand to God is the story of Jason and his alter-ego puppet Tyrone. Jason is the product of a Southern Christian home, and Tyrone is everything Jason doesn't begin to dare to be. Major themes include sexual repression within Christianity, grief (Jason and his mother have recently lost their father/husband), and general teenage angst. The play contains a great deal of vulgarity and high doses of graphic sexuality, both elements that tend to distance me, but in this play they are in service to a provocative script. FLorida Studio Theatre is wise to include this production in their Stage III series, which limits production values, because if they had produced it as part of the Mainstage Series, they may have subjected themselves to numerous walkouts. The Stage III audiences are prepared to be challenged in ways that Mainstage subscribers are not. That is not to suggest that FST does not challenge with Mainstage Productions, but not at this level.

Harrison Bryan gives a virtuoso performance as Jason/Tyrone. It is a physical and technical performance, not so much a deeply emotional one, but then teenage boys are not known for their fully developed emotionalism. Bryan has to switch constantly between the meek Jason and the fearsome Tyrone. Once or twice I felt that the voices intermingled, but make no mistake, Mr. Bryan is giving a stunning performance, fully up to the huge challenges. Brenny Rabine covers all the emotional bases of Margery, a woman who has lost her footing following a devastating personal loss. Drew Hirshfield is giving a competent performance as Pastor Greg, but he has challenges to overcome. He is rather too young for the role (he plays about early to mid 30s when 10 years older would be ideal) and is too handsome. As volatile as Margery's emotions are, I could imagine her being very attracted to Mr. Hirshfield's Pastor Greg. Jessica Mosher is warm and inviting as Jason's girlfriend Jessica and Tom Patterson is fine as friend (and more) Timmy.

In looking over director Jason Cannon's past productions, I find there is a stream running through them: excellent acting performances. Responsible also for teaching, new play development, and the Acting Apprentice Program, he is a very busy man and huge asset to the theatre company. Because of very limited stage space at Bowne's Lab Theatre where this play is staged, scenic designer Bruce Price cannot fully detail the various locations specified in the script. Costume designer Susan Angermann does fine work, including several outfits for Margery. Lighting designer Nick Jones and sound designer Thomas Korp do effective work.

Thank you to Florida Studio Theatre and their Stage III series for bringing this highly challenging work to my region in such a fine production.

Florida Studio Theatre's Hand to God, through February 8, 2019, at the Gompertz Theatre 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota FL. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at 941-366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.

Cast (in alphabetical order): Jason/Tyrone: Harrison Bryan*
Pastor Greg: Drew Hirshfield*
Jessica: Jessica Mosher
Timmy: Tom Patterson*
Margery: Brenny Rabine*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association


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