After twenty-two seasons (and counting) of TV’s South Park and fifteen years of Broadway’s Avenue Q, audiences may be somewhat desensitized to youngsters dropping F-bombs or puppets vigorously engaged in coitus. Prepare to be re-sensitized.
Robert Askins’s Hand to God, running at Santa Rosa’s Left Edge Theatre through November 11, adds blasphemy to the mix and the end result is one helluva dark, mean, and funny play. You’re going to laugh, but you might have to do penance afterwards.
The play opens in the basement of a Cypress, Texas church. It’s the meeting place of the “Christketeers”, a Christian puppet club that church Pastor Greg (Carl Kraines) thinks is a good vehicle to help recently widowed Margery (Melissa Claire) out of her funk. The club has three members; Margery’s introverted son Jason (Dean Linnard); the ne’er do well Timmy (Neil Thollander), who’s basically been sentenced to the club; and Jessica (Chandler Parrot-Thomas), the only member who actually has an interest in puppetry, albeit Balinese shadow puppetry.
Jason introduces his puppet ‘Tyrone’ to Jessica with a painfully unfunny, half-finished version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine and the seeds of affection grow between them. Pastor Greg hopes similar seeds will grow between him and Margery, while it’s Timmy’s anatomy that grows when Margery enters his mind. Something else that’s growing through all of this is Tyrone’s ‘personality’.
Tyrone starts making frequently obscene but acute observations about those around him; their motivations, their desires, their actions; and calls out Jason for his lack of action. Jason seems to be losing control of Tyrone to the point that his mother thinks the puppet might be demonically possessed. A battle ensues. Is it Jason vs. Tyrone? Good vs. evil? Or is it just the classic battle of id vs. superego?
Linnard, a trained puppeteer, really puts his skills to work here and his ability to play two distinct characters/forces simultaneously is a joy to watch. Parrot-Thomas matches him in puppetry skill in one particularly ‘physical’ scene. Claire is good as a woman on the verge of collapse who makes some really bad choices, while Thollander (the object of one of those choices) is effectively loutish. Kraines does nice work as the put-upon pastor.
Askins’s deeper-than-it-lets-on script, crisp direction by Chris Ginesi, a clever set design by Argo Thompson (leading to some really funny sight gags,) and outstanding character work by all lead to one devilishly entertaining show.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
‘Hand to God’ runs through Nov.11 at Left Edge Theatre. 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Fri. & Sat, 8pm; Sun., 2pm. $25–$40. 707.546.3600. leftedgetheatre.com
Photos by Katie Kelly
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.