Theater Review by Howard Steven Frydman
Production: Hand To God
Written by: Robert Askins
Director: Tracy Brigden
In the immortal words of George Takei, Mr. Sulu of “Star Trek” fame, – “Oh Myyy”!!
“Oh My, oh my, oh my”
Those are my initial thoughts after seeing TheaterWorks current and final production of the 17-18 season- “Hand To God” – by playwright Robert Askins, directed by Tracy Brigden and starring a very very very bad puppet named Tyrone. In fact, TheaterWorks states “Hand To God” is a thrill ride of a comedy about good and evil, sex and sin, grief and loss and the filthy mind of one twisted puppet. “Oh Myyy!”
Tyrone- “The” puppet star of TheaterWorks newest production- “Hand to God” is certainly not a Kukla, Ollie, Bert, Ernie, Pinocchio or even Star Trek‘s famous “Balok’s puppet. The closest demonic dummies that come to mind are Chucky, Bride of Chucky, Puppet Master and from that immortal 1962 Twilight Zone episode, “The Dummy” starring Cliff Roberson, who portrays a ventriloquist with his own very very evil dummy named – “Willie”. No matter what the name – be it Willie or Tyrone- we all have a fascination with these inanimate puppets taking over ones life, btw do you remember in the film “Poltergeist” that clown doll in the rocking chair- oy! I get shivers just thinking about it- so that’s the gist of this new production- think Devil may care puppet and it will simply blow your mind away!!
“Hand To God”, nominated in 2015 for five Tony Awards including Best Direction and Best Play was developed by The Ensemble Studio Theater/Youngblood Program at Southampton Arts and had it’s premiere at the Ensemble Studio Theater in 2011. In 2015, HTG opened on Broadway at the Booth Theater starring comedian and TV’s Full House star, Bob Saget as the saintly Pastor Greg.
The evening of……the production starts on a “Dark and Story Night” – literally it’s pouring rain, lighting and thunder ”kracks” overhead, even weatherman Scott Haney is calling for possible large hail stones and tornado touchdowns. Kaboom!!! On stage a looming Wizard of Oz like puppet figure comes forth detailing the fire and brimstone that will soon be set ablaze to unexpected audience members. Our locale, this is no “yellow brick road”- but a highway to hell as we set down in a small town in Texas, where things will soon begin to sizzle as we enter The Twilight Zone-esque church basement of The Christian Puppet Ministry.
Here we are introduced to Margery (Lisa Velten Smith), a recent widow and in charge of the puppet club, Pastor Greg (Peter Benson) who has a “thing” for Margery, her trio of teen students, the nerdy Jessica (Maggie Carr), mischief-maker Timmy (Miles G. Jackson), and Margery’s shy and soft spoken son Jason (Nick LaMedica) and his “son of the Devil” Puppet – Tyrone! Things are gonna get hotter than hell- don’t laugh, don’t cry, just yell “oh my”.
“To mirth, merriment and puppet manslaughter” – yes indeed my friends by the end of this production- I was truly scared to death by these puppets!! But let me tell you that the skills of our puppet masters are totally fascinating- as you watch actors doing duel portrayals- it’s totally Freaky Friday. Cast members Nick LaMedica and Maggie Carr are absolutely “blow your mind away” fantastic puppeteers. LaMedica has several absolutely amazing duel role puppet scenes. I dearly loved his recreation of the famous classic “Abbott and Costello” routine “Who’s on First”- Absolutely first rate. Major kudos to our entire cast, Lisa Velten Smith, Miles G. Jackson, and Peter Benson as the stalwart Pastor Greg.
I must state, please be warned- this production as stated is Rated R- for “rude and raunchy”- it is also triple expletive expletive expletive filled by both puppets, and cast members aplenty. There are several scenes that are truly alarming- let me say that I would have suggested that “TheaterWorks” had scheduled this production closer to Halloween – I mean this is some scary expletive- puppets. For those who enjoy sock puppets and a good scare this one is for you! Enjoy!
“Hand To God“ is currently being produced at TheaterWorks, City Arts on Pearl, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford, CT. For tickets or info call TheaterWorks at 860.527.7838. Run Dates: July 20th through August 26th 2018.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org