Hand to God – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

There’s a new play about puppets in town and you’re invited. If you are thinking the mild mannered Kermit and Miss Piggy, think again seriously. Don’t even give a thought to Princeton, the college educated puppet who resides on “Avenue Q.” This is a different breed entirely. Come meet Tyrone, if you dare, the possessed alter ego of a young, confused teenage boy named Jason who is still in the grips of dealing with his father’s sudden death a mere six months ago.

TheaterWorks of Hartford is offering an extremely up close and personal introduction to Jason’s world in Robert Askins’s dark comedy “Hand to God” until Sunday, August 26. Set in a church basement, in rural Texas, “Hand to God” is like no biblical tale or sermon you’ve ever heard before. Irreverent is putting it mildly.

Nick LaMedica’s Jason masterfully commands and controls his own role as well as that of his out-of-control puppet Tyrone and is not happy to be stuck in the church puppet club run by his mother. While he enjoys being geographically close to Maggie Carr’s Jessica, a girl he fantasizes about, he is equally unhappy to be in the same room with Timmy, a sarcastic and overbearing Miles G. Jackson.

Jason’s mom Margery, a frustrated and conflicted Lise Velten Smith, tries her best to lead the group but is clearly drowning in the attempt. The amorous and unwanted advances of Pastor Greg, an ingratiating Peter Benson, are not helping. As Tyrone takes over Jason’s troubled soul, becoming obsessed with sin, sex and Satan, and developing a hunger for human flesh, (think of the carnivorous plant in “Little Shop of Horrors”), the church becomes the site for ungodlike behavior. There is humor tucked neatly into the shocking occurrences.

Tracy Brigden directs this foray into religion’s darker sides, where evil tries hard to triumph over good. Luke Cantarella is responsible for designing a variety of revolving and intriguing sets that showcase Stephanie Shaw’s collection of puppets.

For tickets ($45-70), call TheaterWorks, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-527-7838 or online at www.twhartford.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and matinees weekends at 2:30 pm.

Hold on to your rosary beads as Tyrone with a little help from Jason takes you on a bumpy ride to limbo and beyond.