AVENUE Q this isn’t. Robert Askins’ much touted play, HAND TO GOD (@ SpeakEasy Stage Company through Feb. 4th), is more CHUCKIE meets THE EXORCIST than child’s play. Poor Jason, (the likeable Eliott Purcell). His father just died. His mom (Marianna Bassham) is falling apart and she needs his help launching a puppet ministry at the local church.
It’s no surprise that Jason’s puppet can utter things the teenager wouldn’t dare to and before you can say Roxanna Myhrum, her nasty little puppet creation has taken over. “Tyrone” has the satanic voice of the devil and some demonic objectives, as well. The flummoxed pastor (Lewis D. Wheeler) wonders if it’s the puppet who’s possessed or the boy whose arm animates it. (Purcell’s voice gets a strenuous workout, shifting from normal range to terrifying growl when Tyrone is in control.)
Tyrone’s blue language, and even bluer behavior made the play a sensation in New York but you can hear “language” (the warning on X-rated films) exactly like this on Showtime or HBO and as for the play’s shocking sexual scenes, you can see much more explicit depictions on TV. There’s the rub: You don’t usually see it on stage… unless Ryan Landry is cleverly presenting it as satire. (If Askins intended HAND TO GOD as satire, we have to know what is being ridiculed and we don’t.) It seems to me that all the controversy surrounding the play is a tempest in a teapot or more exactly, a tempest in a toilet.
At times Askins clearly wants us to take the puppet’s philosophical analyses quite seriously—but the playwright’s attempts at moralizing are so caught up in the carnage and the carnal frenzy, that any message is simply overpowered. (David R. Gammons’ cast does amaze but again, alas, they’re overpowered by the gratuitous material.)
To boot, I couldn’t untangle a lot of what Tyrone was saying because of his deep, gravelly voice. Thank heaven, seated next to me was an audience member who repeated out loud anything he found amusing. (You know, people who talk during a show as if they’re in their own living room.) In this case, I was grateful for the help although I did not share the man’s sense of humor.