Puppets Play with People in â€œHand to Godâ€ at the Incline
Review by Blair Godshall of â€œHand to Godâ€: Incline Theatre
The play â€œHand to Godâ€ could be described as a dysfunctional family drama/teenager coping with angst saga/angry satire on Christianity/ horror movie/ raunchy comedy/ puppet show. All these elements coexist like a cat fight you canâ€™t stop watching in Robert Askinsâ€™ script, now playing at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre.
Puppetry is the showâ€™s signatureÂ but itâ€™s not asÂ similar toâ€œAvenue Qâ€ as you might think. I was expecting every actor to have a puppet but itâ€™s not theÂ case here. Both this play and â€œAvenue Qâ€ contain â€œRâ€ rated adult humor so donâ€™t bring the kids.Â Manipulated principallyÂ and masterfully by the hilarious Alexander SladeÂ (who plays unhappy teen Jason), the all-too-animatedÂ puppetÂ TyroneÂ is the showâ€™s most compelling character. The mild-mannered Jasonâ€™s uncontrolled, raging, teenageÂ alter-ego, Tyrone,Â curses, threatens, intimidates, seduces, and physically attacks other characters. His self-image is that ofÂ wellâ€¦Â SatanÂ himself.Â
Slade does a marvelous job, not only of manipulating the puppet physically but in switching seamlessly between Jasonâ€™s younger, more tentative voice, and Tyroneâ€™s lower-pitched growl. Playing two characters (or two manifestations of the same character) is no easy task, and Slade is more than up to it. I was really impressed with his performance and ability to lure the audience in. Jessica (Hope Pauly) plays a sweet girl who has a crush on Jason. I wonâ€™t give anything away, but her character surprised me the most.
Jasonâ€™s family is in crisis. His father recently died, apparently of overeating, and his mother, Margery (Karie Gipson), a woman beyond the verge of a nervous breakdown with an appetite for rough sex, is nearly always out of control. Her character begins at a high level of anxious intensity and stays there throughout the play giving her a one-dimensional feel.
The most ambiguous character is Greg (Brian Anderson), the pastor of the church in which Margery and the teenagers participate in a puppet ministryÂ (yes, you read that right). We first see him in a cringe-worthy,Â uncomfortableÂ attempt to romance Margery, then later he seems to want to help the others through theirÂ difficulties, but I still canâ€™t get past the characterâ€™s creepiness.Â
Timothy (Jack Kremer) plays the role of a total jerk withÂ great believability where everyone in the audienceÂ will want to take a swipe at him, but they wonâ€™t because the other characters in the play do it for us. TimothyÂ wants only oneÂ thing andÂ finds it in a hilarious scene for which directorÂ Dylan SheltonÂ deservesÂ praise and a high-five for staging (youâ€™ll know exactly what Iâ€™m referring to when you see the play).Â
The technical aspects of the production are well executed.Â Brett Bowlingâ€™sÂ set is a convincing reproduction of a church basement/room, complete withÂ religiousÂ postersÂ andÂ cheap furnitureÂ (notablyÂ theÂ beanbag chairs). The setÂ serves a variety of functionsÂ but some of the set changes slow the playâ€™s pace at times. This is a props-heavy show, and designerÂ Caren Brady provides a nice collection of Bibles, plasticÂ toys, pictures, bookcases, etc., many of whichÂ are abusedÂ from the charactersâ€™ emotional wildness.Â
The lighting/sound designer (Denny Reed) memorably changesthe lighting to dramatic red when Tyrone is at his most devilish and there is a nice effect when Timothy puts out one of the lights in the church basement but my question then is, how does a lightbulb come back on if it was broken? Smaller sound effects, such as a car door closing when Jason gets out of Margeryâ€™s car, are well coordinated with the action.
Like I mentioned before, this is not a play for children, so donâ€™t let the puppets fool you into thinking otherwise (those little devils; no pun intended).Â Additionally, it more than pokes fun at organized Christian religions and many will find it to be sacrilegious, so you canâ€™t say I didnâ€™t warn you. For all the hilarity, itâ€™s a pretty dark play andÂ yet,Â audiencesÂ willÂ relate to the playâ€™s over-the-top humor and connection to the struggles of a troubled young man.Â The elusiveÂ TyroneÂ starts and endsÂ the show as a foul-mouthed lecturer on the history and sociology of religion.Â He mightÂ be a kind of external demonic force as well as the voice of Jasonâ€™s anger, grief, and frustration, butÂ Askins refrains from providing easy answers.
Hand to God plays at the Warsaw Federal Incline Theatre
Jan. 23-Feb. 9 [East Price Hill] For tickets, call the theater at 513-241-6550 or go here: http://www.cincinnatilandmarkproductions.com/Incline/News.aspx