Hand to God opened at the Jungle Theater this weekend, and I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much. I’ve heard it compared to Avenue Q and Book of Mormon, and if you’re familiar with these shows, you know that they are wildly inappropriate and not for the easily offended.
This Robert Askins play takes place in a Texas church and centers around a mother, Margery (Tracey Maloney), who is grieving the loss of her husband. She’s recruited to run the puppet program at the church, and the group includes her son Jason (Riley O’Toole), Jessica (C. Michael Menge), and Timmy (Eric Sharp). Riley has a crush on Jessica, and Timmy has a crush on Margery, but Pastor Greg (Kris Nelson) also has a crush on Margery which leads to weird, uncomfortable, and often hilarious circumstances.
Once you throw in Tyrone, Jason’s Satanic hand puppet, anything goes and it’s best to just sit back and enjoy the ride. Things escalate quickly at the end of the first act, and I thought to myself, “What the f*ck is going on, and where is this going??” but in the best way possible.
I’m beyond impressed with O’Toole’s coordination and skill with playing two characters at the same time, including expertly controlling Tyrone’s movements in conjunction with his own. Director Christina Baldwin takes full advantage of the performers’ ease with physical comedy and keeps things moving along succinctly but playfully. Chelsea M. Warren’s scenic design is fun yet effective, and it blends seamlessly with Grant E. Merges’ lighting design and Sean Healey’s sound design. We’re even treated to 8-bit Casio keyboard renditions of popular songs before and throughout. I also have to give credit to Warren for her puppet design, and to Myrtle Lemon for making the funniest and most memorable program I’ve come across.
Amidst the absurdity, you’ll find commentary about grief and its effect on mental health, religion and the power of the church, and how parenting choices influence children. Throw in some toxic masculinity and the concept of free will, and you’ll leave feeling thoughtfully and thoroughly entertained.
Hand to God runs through August 19 at the Jungle Theater, and I suggest you put this on your must-see list. Click here to purchase tickets.
Hand To God
July 21-August 19