You know you’re watching something special when an actor with a sock puppet on his hand engages in dialogue with said sock puppet and your head goes back and forth as if you’re watching two separate actors engage. In the funny, profane, and dark Hand to God, Tyrone is one puppet who makes the violent Punch & Judy shows look tame.
Hand to God tells the story of Jason, an awkward teenager who has recently lost his father. His mother Margery has been corralled into having three teenagers put on a puppet show at a local church. In addition to Jason there’s the cocky Timothy and Jessica, the girl Jason likes. Margery has the unwanted attention of Pastor Greg and the initially unwanted attention of Timothy. And Tyrone gets ALL their attentions through his words and actions. Of course they’re Jason’s words and actions, but as things escalate both verbally and physically the cast members and the audience aren’t sure how to deal with the appendage on Jason’s arm.
Steven Boyer is phenomenal as Jason/Tyrone and the rest of the cast is great as they cycle through a spectrum of emotions. Sarah Stiles as Jessica has an inspired scene with Boyer and their two puppets that left the audience, shall we say, fulfilled. The playwright Robert Askins has another play, Permission, running off-Broadway right now. That plot deals with spanking among consensual adults — obviously Mr. Askins likes to push boundaries. But I didn’t find Hand to God provocative just to get a rise out of the audience. My only quibble is that I feel the solution to the Tyrone issue took a little long to get to. But I certainly hope Tyrone doesn’t take umbrage with that. AFW
Hand to God, Booth Theatre, 222 W 45 Street
Ticket price: $59-$147, discounts available
Running time: 1 hour 55 minutes, one 15 minute intermission
Runs thru: selling tickets through October