Featuring everything from simulated puppet sex, tawdry seductions and a mangled ear, the Tony-nominated Hand to God, by Robert Askins, is a play that dares to be different. Director William Dean Leary specializes in putting on twisted shows such as these, and he always gets the most out of his cast–this iteration of Hand to God is no exception.
Hand to God takes place in Cypress, Texas, and focuses on a widow named Margery, whose minister, Pastor Greg, has asked her to run the puppet ministry. The trouble starts when the teenage members of the ministry, including Margery’s son Jason, the girl next door Jessica, and troublemaker Timmy, become sexually attracted to all the wrong people.
In a show with many good performances, Gabe Zak’s portrayal of Jason, and his demonic puppet Tyrone, was superb. Zak infused both Jason and Tyrone with the appropriate energy and tone needed for each character. He also elevated every scene he was in, making each scene better than the next. Jason’s stunted romantic overtures to Jessica (the fantastic Kelsey Yudice) were a trainwreck in slow motion. Jason’s confrontation with Timmy was frightening.
Sharon Eddy’s Margery was prim and matronly one moment, and horny and foul-mouthed the next. Her scenes with Jamie Brill’s Timothy were explosive. Brill (who appeared under Leary’s direction in Memories and Legends) showed bravado in some scenes and vulnerability in others.
The excellent Paul M. Davis (kinK), made Pastor Gregory a sensitive man of the cloth, yet capable of sternness, meanness, and lust. (Davis was also the Fight Choreographer.) Davis was able to masterfully portray a shocking scene between Pastor Gregory and Margery.
Among the unsung stars of this show were the puppets, who were designed by Kylie Clark, who has built puppets for Virginia Repertory Theatre, Olney Theatre and Off-West-End Arcola in London. (Zak’s puppet was particularly menacing.) Clark was aided by Acting/Puppet Coach Rachel Zampelli, recently seen in Into the Woods at Ford’s Theatre.
I liked the upstage mural, which depicted Jesus amidst a bucolic setting. Muralist McKenna Gervase Kelly added detail and eye-catching colors to the mural.
Technical Director Stephen Beitzell’s lighting, and electrical spark effect were spot on. Leary, as usual, created a set that gave the audience lots to look at, and he made an interesting choice for one scene–he staged an outdoor scene on a micro-stage that sat perpendicular to the audience, house left.
Wolf Pack Theatre Company has four more productions due for the rest of the year, including (in approximate order) Jekyll & Hyde, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (with a Halloween night opening), kinK (which Leary wrote), and Wolf Pack’s annual adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Leary is a prolific director and playwright in the Washington, D.C. Metro Area–definitely come out and see the excellent work he got out of his cast in Hand to God.
Running Time: 90 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
Hand to God plays through July 20, 2019, at Wolf Pack Theatre Company performing at Taylor Street Theater, Cora B. Woods Building, 3601 Taylor St., Brentwood, MD. For tickets, call the box office at 240-565-4144 or purchase them online.