TR Robertson…If you plan on including “Hand to God” as part of your play going experience you need to be aware of what you are going to see unfolding on stage. The San Diego premiere of the most produced play in America should probably have at least a PG-17 rating, if not an R rating. It will shock you, unnerve you, leave you almost in tears laughing and definitely make some feel very uncomfortable with simulated sexual experiences with the cast and with puppets. Also, throw in the continual off-color language and you know from the start, this is a play like none you have seen before. The dark comedy has been referred to as an “irreverent puppet comedy”. From where I was seated, three individuals did not return after intermission. Other reviewers have written that a few people around them left during the first act. The reason for their departure was not due to bad acting, but rather due to the nature of the various subject matters “Hand to God” touches on.Photos by Daren Scott“Hand to God” opened Off-Broadway in 2011 at the Ensemble Studio Theatre and ran on Broadway in 2015 for nine months at the Booth Theatre. It would open in London in 2016. The play won the Off Broadway Alliance Award for Best Play and was nominated for 5 Tony Awards including Best Play, Best Direction, and Best Leading Actor/Actress and Featured Actress.Playwright Robert Askins stated in an interview in the Boston Globe by Christopher Wallenberg, “I want to see things on stage that I haven’t seen before or that I haven’t seen in a long time”. Using his past experiences growing up in Cypress, Texas, in a fairly religious home and a mother who ran a Christian puppet theatre, Robert takes the audience on a very unsettling journey with a mom who is going through a series of emotional issues, her teenage son who is experiencing the angst of his relationship with his mother and his growing sexual desires, a minister who is also experiencing personal relationship issues, another teenage boy who has misdirected desires and a teenage girl who has her own relationship concerns. Put all of this together and throw in a puppet who grows more and more “devilish” as the play goes on and you have a perfect storm that explodes on stage.San Diego Rep Artistic Director Sam Woodhouse stated in the program, “ “Hand to God” is that rare play that puts onstage an achingly intimate family drama, brazenly introduces an exotic character with extraordinary powers and provokes fiery thought about the good and the bad.”Director Larry Alldredge stated, “This play makes me wonder, question and converse like no other in quite a while.” There is no doubt this play will cause a great deal of conversation. As people left the theatre, many were very quiet, possibly still awestruck by what they had seen on stage, and many were talking about the play and what they had witnessed.The key to the play is the cast and San Diego Rep has assembled a talented, professional, award winning cast. The action on stage is fast paced with quick set changes using the Lyceum’s rotating stage as you are drawn into the bizarre world that unfolds on stage. Lead actor Caleb Foote plays conflicted teenager Jason. Foote has performed in a number of theatre and television productions. He does an amazing job of handling both the personal demons Jason is going through with those around him and his seeming “possession” by the devilish puppet Tyrone. The voice changes, personal arguments he and Tyrone have, the physical comedy he performs brings a standing ovation at the end of the play. His “Who’s on First” routine with Tyrone is hilarious and it’s also Jason’s first step toward the “dark side”. Playing his mom is award winning and veteran actress DeAnna Driscoll as Margery. Driscoll, as Margery, shows a great range of emotions and also brings the audience to tears of laughter with her inter-action with Timothy in aseries of simulated sexual encounters. You could definitely tell this made some in the audience feel uncomfortable, but to me it was the sign of great and hilarious acting.Playing “horny” teenager Timothy was Garrett Marshall. Garrett stated he had mostly done musical theatre, and this play showed he is ready to handle comedic and dramatic roles. Christina L. Flynn plays Jessica, romantic interest for Jason. Flynn also takes part with Foote in a hilarious “puppet sex” scene as she is the voice for puppet Jolene. Flynn is making her San Diego Rep debut. The final cast member is Jason Heil who has performed Off-Broadway and in a number of plays around the United States. Heil plays Pastor Greg. Pastor Greg is a lonely man, loneliness being one of the many issues the play deals with. He has the audience feeling sorry for him one moment and cheering him on the next. As the Pastor, Askins must speak to his issues with religion and its purpose in our life.Assisting with the overall production of the play was Lighting Designer Trevor Norton, Sound Designer Matt Lescault-Wood, Costume Designer Charlotte DeVaux and Set Designer Robin Sanford Roberts.The play touches on dealing with grief, loneliness, dealing with impulses you don’t understand, especially sexual impulses, and the ways we try and justify our unsavory behavior. In the play, Tyrone has several monologues where he speaks to how we have hurt others and tried to justify it and how we behave and try to cover our actions with “the devil made me do it”. He touches on our continual changes in attitudes, such as “you want him, then you want him to go away”. In a final speech to the audience, Tyrone issues a warning to all in attendance for those looking for someone to save them and stop the pain around them, “The thing about a savior is you never know where to look. Might just be the place you saw the devil before”.This is definitely a play you should know a little about before you go. If you think you can handle the language and the topics covered you will see a well performed, most unusual and a play that challenges and questions a multitude of topics.The Mission Statement of the San Diego Rep is to “produce intimate, exotic, provocative theatre. We promote a more inclusive community through vivid works that nourish progressive political and social values and celebrate the multiple voices of our region. San Diego Repertory theatre feeds the curious soul.” “Hand to God” definitely falls into the mission statement of the San Diego Rep.Tickets for the San Diego Rep production can be purchased by calling 619-544-1000 or go online to www.sdrep.org. Ticket prices range from $42 to $68. The play is performed on stage at the Lyceum Stage at 79 Horton Plaza in San Diego. Parking and a number of restaurants are nearby. “Hands to God” will run until November 12 th. Next up for San Diego Rep is “Black Pearl Sings” beginning on November 22nd..
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“Hand to God” At Lyceum Both Shocks and Entertains Audience
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