The Austin Chronicle

Hand to God at Hyde Park Theatre

Capital T Theatre delivers a fast-paced, funny take on this tale of a demonic hand puppet in a church basement

Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, September 2, 2016, Arts

It's interesting that Hand to God doesn't have a lot to do with religion or theology. It takes place mostly in the basement of a Lutheran church in Cypress, Texas, and its characters are all participating in the life of the church. The play concerns itself largely with the internal struggles between right and wrong, but it's not so much about religion in Capital T Theatre's production. It's a comedy about foul-mouthed puppets bringing to light the best and worst parts of ourselves.

Margery (Rebecca Robinson) sponsors a puppet club at the church. Her son Jason (Chase Brewer) is a reluctant member. His hand puppet Tyrone is now taking over Jason's life. Tyrone tells it like it is, at its worst, and by act two, he begins some pretty Exorcist-level nastiness, turning violent and even making some stuff explode. By the end of the play, three of the five characters are bloodied, and all of the ugliness buried inside Margery and Jason since Jason's father died earlier in the year of a heart attack gets spewed into the open.

The main set of Cap T's Hand to God is a church basement. Designed by Mark Pickell (who also directed), over there is the rickety bookshelf with all the hymnals and Bibles, and up there are the outdated fluorescent light fixtures. It's so realistic that looking upon that cheap vinyl tile floor and the walls with the Jesus posters will send anybody who's ever sung "Here I Am, Lord" to an acoustic guitar right back to where it all began. Jarring though that is given the next-level profanity and sex acts, it's definitely impressive.

The cast members perform beautifully. As Jason, Chase Brewer bounces back and forth between himself and Tyrone consistently for two full acts. Fellow puppet-club member Jessica does her best to save Jason, and Theresa Baldwin's acting is charming and believable in a role that fortunately rises above a church-girl stereotype. As Pastor Greg, Kenneth Wayne Bradley could easily have hammed it up as a small-town preacher, but thank goodness he doesn't. The choice for Bradley to play the role with quiet insight and sensitivity makes the whole production better.

The script by Robert Askins is funny and probably as smart as it can be, given that it's about a demonic hand-puppet who traps a kid in a church basement. Which is to say, it's pretty good and ridiculous. It's unlikely that this one will go down through the years as the greatest work of 21st century American theatre, but that's okay. Hand to God is a fast-paced and funny show given a strong production from a company that has figured out how to stage small-scale plays well.

Hand to God

Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd
Through Sept. 17
Running time: 1 hr., 55 min.

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