Written by Robert Askins
Directed by Jarrad West
Everyman Theatre Production
ACT Hub Theatre, Kingston to 13 August
Reviewed by Len Power 28 July 2022
After sitting through so many worthy ‘issues’ plays recently in Canberra, it was a great relief to see a play that just entertains and makes you laugh.
‘Hand to God’ tosses in a few subtle issues, too, of course, like religious hypocrisy, family dysfunction, shockingly bad language, faith, bullying, morality, bereavement, horny teenager troublemaking and assorted sexual stuff, blasphemy, insanity, puppet addiction, obsessiveness, furniture smashing, virginal timidness, ear biting, frenzied behaviour, violence and so on – everything, in fact, that makes you want to go to the theatre.
Robert Askins’ play, first produced off-Broadway in 2011, takes place in the tiny, conservative town of Cypress, Texas. Shy young Jason joins his mother’s Christian Puppet Ministry. Struggling after the death of her husband, his mother tries to resist the amorous advances of both the town’s teenage trouble-maker and the creepy Preacher, while the young, attractive and refreshingly forward Jessica shows her feelings for Jason. Tyrone, the puppet created by Jason, then declares that he is the Devil and leads everyone into sin.
Jarrad West and his cast have pulled all the stops out in this over-the-top farce. It’s played at a furious speed and the cast all give terrific performances. There are breath-taking moments including a performance of some of the famous Abbott and Costello routine, ‘Who’s On First’ by actor, Michael Cooper, with his puppet, Tyrone, a scene of frenzied sexual interaction by Steph Roberts as the mother, Margery, and Joshua Wiseman as the teenage troublemaker, Tim, that wrecks an entire room and another wild sex scene that leaves nothing to the imagination and has to be seen to be believed.
|Holly Ross, Tyrone and Michael Cooper|
Michael Cooper as the shy Jason battling with his possessed puppet, Tyrone, leads the company with a remarkable performance that is highly comic but still grounded in reality. His extraordinary vocal skills really bring that puppet to malevolent life. Steph Roberts as the mother, Margery, displays excellent comic timing while playing probably the most courageous role of her career.
Joshua Wiseman is very funny as the obnoxious, horny teenage troublemaker, Tim, and Arran McKenna is nicely oily in his portrayal of the Preacher. Holly Ross also gives a very humorous, sly performance as the young girl attracted to Jason. The entire cast have mastered believable Southern American accents as well.
This is a very funny, outrageous play which requires strong direction and skilful playing vocally and physically to succeed. The director, Jarrad West, and his fabulous cast have achieved this and made it a hysterically funny experience.
If you enjoy this as much as I did, you’ll probably go to hell, too!
Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.