It’s a lovely Sunday morning in July where Jesus smiles down upon the congregation of Mount Logan Lutheran Church, who’ve just gathered round the basement in order to see the world premiere of Miss Margery’s Christcateers, a Christian puppet show. At least that’s what we’re lead to believe when we enter Studio Theatre’s beautiful black box performance space. In a delicious turn of events, Robert Askins’ Hand to God is what we see instead.
This show is completely immersive and will leave you insanely entertained.
This Tony nominated play is about a boy and his demented puppet, who may or may not be the devil, that unleashes the rage of a small Texas community, in the name of uncovering the hypocrisy of humanity. As the New Yorker, “Sesame Street meets the Exorcist.” What is so remarkable about Studio Theatre’s production is that the audience is placed smack dab in the middle of the action. Director Joanie Schulz wrangles a cast of hilarious actors and whips them into a chaotic frenzy through this very intense show no more than a stone’s throw away from her audience. It all culminates into a theatre experience that is in turns delightfully uncomfortable and uncomfortably delightful.
New York based Liam Forde is easily the breakout star of the production. He portrays Jason/Tyrone, a sweet teenaged boy and his raucous, perverted puppet pal, respectively. He slides seamlessly between the two characters to the point where it is easy to believe that they are two completely different identities. Even more impressive is that this is his first performance with puppetry.
Susan Rome plays Jason’s hysterical mother, Margery, who in light of her husband’s passing has volunteered to head up the puppetry events at her church. Rome is the heart of the show, and her performance is profoundly human.
Ryan McBride plays Timothy the ne’er do well foible to sweet Jason. McBride’s performance is wildly entertaining, with a phenomenal Texas drawl. A particular highlight comes when the character proves his undying love for Margery by destroying the church basement.
Tim Getman, more recently seen in The Nether at the Wooly Mammoth Theatre, plays the Ned Flanders-esque Pastor Greg. His physicality and diction oscillate effortlessly between caricature and reality.
Caitlin Collins plays the awkward but precocious Jessica, Jason’s object of affection. Like Ford, Collins perfectly mirrors the awkward high school student physicality. The highlight of her performance is when she gets a puppet of her own and gets through to Jason by working on Tyrone’s level.
The immersive set that has become Studio X’s calling card is designed by Daniel Conway, complete with details such as used Christian children’s books and toys, Jesus posters and even a full church bulletin board. The transformation in the second act is incredible.
Pivotal to the show, Chelsea M Warren designs the outrageous puppets and the perfectly detailed costumes. Keith Parham designed the lights, which include a basement window to the outside, and flickering lighting effects.
It’s hard to believe that there could be two foul mouth puppet shows in existence but there absolutely can be. This show is completely immersive and will leave you insanely entertained. It will also make you consider the darkest parts of yourself, those parts of yourself that you may want to attribute to someone— or something—else. This show will call those thoughts by your own name.
Running Time: One hour and forty five minutes with one fifteen minute intermission.
Advisory. Adult Language and Themes.
Hand to God runs through August 7, 2106 at the Studio Theatre, 1501 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005. For tickets, click here.