SpeakEasy's "Hand to God": Paranoid Puppetry Personified

Tyrone & Jason (Eliott Purcell) in "Hand to God"
(photo: Glen Perry Photography)

Hand to God, the play by Robert Askins now being performed at SpeakEasy Stage Company, comes along at a particularly handy time. As we as a nation are about to deal with perpetually paranoid personalities on a daily tweeted basis, we need good theater now more than ever. And Askins' comedy, first seen on Broadway in 2015 (after two Off-Broadway runs) when it was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Play, is a perfect antidote to the uncertainty to come. Make no mistake, this is comedy as dark as it comes, absolutely pulling no punches.

It's a deceptively simple premise, that the life of teenager Jason (Eliott Purcell) has been engulfed by the (literally) demonic antics of his dominant hand, Tyrone, a sock puppet who emerges as the flip side of Avenue Q. This has complications for those around him, including his mother Margery (Marianna Bessham), his bachelor Pastor Greg (Lewis D. Wheeler), and his peers, Timothy (David Ladani Sanchez) and Jessica (Josephine Elwood). While there is at its base a comforting humanity, this comedic riff has more diabolical ends in store. What transpires further on in the play is best left undisclosed, for as a critic unwilling to divulge spoilers, one's hands are tied.

Suffice it to say that whatever one might imagine as the worst of all possible worlds, the play evolves way worse than anticipated until its final encounter with Armageddon. This production is Directed by David R. Gammons, with Scenic Design by Christina Todesco, Lighting Design by Jeff Adelberg, Sound Design by Andrew Duncan Will, Puppet Design by Jonathan Little and Costume Design by Gail Astrid Buckley (right down to our hero's Muppet jammies), this is the profound embodiment of our worst fears, that something wicked this way comes.

One can confidently state, hand to God, that this is among the funniest plays in many a year, and serves as fair warning that we, as supporters of the arts and the truth they convey, should remain vigilant against any who would attempt to suppress freedom of expression or, Tyrone forbid, any criticism or dissent. If the near future threatens to overwhelm you with its negative messages of political selfishness, self-absorption and misogyny, seek out the arts, such as Hamilton (despite the portrayal by those who haven't seen it that it's “overrated”), the Meryl Streep bravura performance as Florence Foster Jenkins (also ignorantly denigrated as "overrated"), or the finally feminist Disney crafts people who created the beautiful and powerful Moana. And, above all, have your sides split and your funny bones tickled by the ingeniously riotous laugh fest that is Hand to God.

Hands down, this play is a downright hilarious exercise of apocalyptic proportions. Who knew that hell on earth could be so much fun?

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