Theater Review: Hand to God

Harrison Bryan. Photo by Matthew Holler
Harrison Bryan. Photo by Matthew Holler
Dennis Maley
SARASOTA — Don't let The Happytime Murders sour you on comic puppets. Hand to God, an innovative adult comedy that opened at the Florida Studio Theatre on Friday, uses the device to tackle serious subject matter, and the result is both brilliant and hilarious.

Jason is a shy and introverted teenager whose already awkward adolescence has been further challenged by the death of his father, who suffered a heart attack after, by all accounts, eating himself to death. His mother, Margery, isn't doing much better in terms of coping with the loss and, at its core, the play is a thought-provoking look at the unhealthy and sometimes self-destructive ways that human beings deal with pain and grief.

Most of the play takes place in a church basement, set in a small town in Texas. Pastor Greg has given Margery the reigns of an unpopular puppeteering club that has three students, one of which is her talented if reluctant son. You see, Jason's hand puppet, Tyrone, soon begins taking over his master's actions, giving him a voice he never knew he had, along with intestinal fortitude that borders on sociopathic.

Harrison Bryan puts on a powerhouse performance as both Jason and the voice of Tyrone, and Brenny Rabine (Margery) gives us a startling look at a woman unhinged by a life that's spun out of control. Jessica Mosher is delightful as Jessica, Jason's classmate crush, and Tom Patterson does a fine job as Timmy, the ne'er do well, hot-for-teacher teen who is only in class so he has someplace to be while his mother is attending AA meetings. Drew Hirshfield is absolutely fabulous as Pastor Greg, for whom he at times seems to be channeling The Simpsons' Reverend Lovejoy.

There's blood, there's sex (even surprisingly-steamy simulated puppet sex), and there are plenty of laughs. Be assured, this work by Robert Askins is neither shallow nor gimmicky. Rather, it's an innovative piece of modern stagecraft that makes for one hell of an enjoyable evening. 

Hand To God runs through February 10 in FST's Bowne's Lab Theatre. Click here for schedule and ticket information.