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Tyrone, the Satan of Broadway, stars in HAND TO GOD

Roy Berko

(Member, American Theatre Critics Association & Cleveland Critics Circle)

Tyrone is evil.  Tyrone, he of big, vacant eyes is both disturbing and funny.  Tyrone is vile, violent and demonic.  Tyrone is raunchy.   Tyrone is foul-mouthed.

Tyrone is a sock puppet who is the anti-hero of Robert Askins’ HAND TO GOD, a Broadway play that causes convulsive laughter while terrifying.

HAND TO GOD centers on Jason, who lives with his mother in Cypress, Texas, in the heart of the Bible belt.  His father has recently died and both he and his mother are searching for a reason to exist.

His mother, Marjery, at the encouragement of young and handsome Pastor Greg, who is romantically interested in her,  has organized the Christian Puppet Ministry in order to creatively teach faith and morality to the “good” children of the town.

The emotionally fragile Jason is victimized by Timothy, the class bully.  The over-sexed charismatic teen-aged Timothy lusts for Margery, who, in a moment of need, gives in to his machinations.  Meanwhile, Jason has a secret fondness for Jessica, a caring classmate.

Jason creates Tyrone, a hand puppet, as part of the ministry, and his whole life changes.  Tyrone, like many alter-egos, is everything Jason is not.  He is dangerous, commanding, and irreverent.   He is Satan’s hand who challenges Jason to fulfill his darkest desires by becoming the young man’s destructive dominant personality. As mental health professionals will attest, once created, getting rid of the likes of Tyrone is difficult.

HAND TO GOD has gone through three reincarnations in New York.  In 2012 it opened at a 99-seat theatre to strong reviews.  It moved to a 249-seat off-Broadway theatre and evolved into a major hit.  It is now being played in the intimate 783-seat on-Broadway Booth Theatre, a venue reserved for “finely-crafted dramas.”  HAND TO GOD well fits that criteria.

Actor Steven Boyer, who portrays both Jason and Tyrone, has an intimate relationship with the sock puppet.  He built the googly eyed “monster” with the small mop of red hair when the show had its first reading at Pace University and it has been his intimate companion since.

Boyer is compelling.  Jason and Tyrone become so blended that when Boyer is creating the voice of Tyrone, he makes little effort to be a ventriloquist. It matters little as the sock puppet becomes so real that when Tyrone speaks, all eyes are on him, not Jason.  Tyrone becomes a real being.

When Boyer tries to rid himself of Tyrone in a battle to the end, it parallels a victim of Dissociative Identity Disorder who must fight to destroy the psychological issues of trauma that brought about the need for the protective or deviant split-off.  It is excruciating to watch Jason’s struggle to be free of his Satanic “other self.”

The rest of the cast well supports Boyer.  Geneva Carr is believable as Margery, Jason’s depressed mother.  Michael Oberholtzer is appropriately aggressive as Timothy, the bully with teenage hopping hormones.  Sarah Stiles as Jessica, who attempts to aid Jason by being supportive of him, is character-right, as is Marc Kudisch as Pastor Greg.

Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, who was recognized by the Drama League for his production of HAND OF GOD, is making his Broadway directing debut with this staging.  He has a long history of productions at both Ensemble Theatre and other venues.  His skill is clear in this production as he keeps the action moving along at an appropriate pace, building up to the painful conclusion.

Capsule judgement:  HAND TO GOD is a compelling tale of two lost people, caught up in their own lack of ability to cope with the death of a major person in their lives, who are losing their fight to chart a course of healthy reality and turn to escapism to get through the angst.  The production is well conceived and performed and makes for a fascinating theatrical experience in which laughter acts as an escape from the pain.

HAND TO GOD  is being performed in an open-ended run at the Booth Theatre, 22 West 45thStreet, New York.