Monday, April 27, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Hand to God

Steven Boyer in a scene from Robert Askins' HAND TO GOD on Broadway. (Photo by Joan Marcus)
Hand to God
By Robert Askins
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
The Booth Theatre

What's It All About?
The Broadway transfer of Robert Askins' very dark (and I do mean very) play about a church puppet ministry in Texas and a demon-possessed puppet named Tyrone that takes over his handler, Jason (Steven Boyer, who reprises the role for which he has been honored with Obie, Lucille Lortel and the Clarence Derwent Awards.) Jason is forced to take part in the ministry by his mother, Margery (Geneva Carr, in her Broadway debut), who directs it to keep herself busy after the death of her husband. 

The sleazy pastor, Greg (a miscast Marc Kudish) tries to hit on her, but when she gives into temptation, it's for a repulsive S&M relationship with puppet ministry teen Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer, also making his Broadway debut). All this wreaks havoc with sensitive Jason, who is influenced more and more by Tyrone, who gives him tips for how to win the affections of the other member of the puppet team, Jessica (Sarah Stiles).

Tyrone leads Jason to horrible violence -- and to a lengthy session of puppet porn as he and Jessica's puppet engage in every possible type of sexual activity while the teens talk.

What are the highlights?
Boyer's performance is very good. His puppetry skills and body language are amazing. He is a nominee for the 2015 Drama League Distinguished Performance and will host those awards, along with Tyrone, on May 15.

What Are the Lowlights?
Really repulsive show. It doesn't find the uncontested humor of something like Book of Mormon, that crosses some lines of reverence, but overwhelmingly uses the religion's own questionable points for laughs (we all need to poke fun at ourselves). This just portrays Christians as idiots. It's message, spoken directly to us by Tyrone, that evil and the devil are  man-made things, that Jesus dying on the cross is just something made up  and that we should all just let ourselves off the hook for having natural desires that should just be allowed to thrive. 

When I saw this Off-Broadway, I thought it was not very funny and misguided, but not particularly hostile in its intent, despite the fact that it's just another play by a playwright who obviously has walked away from faith and wants to vent. This Broadway version, however, focuses on the dark and evil -- the scene after Tyrone possesses Jason designed by Beowulf Boritt includes pentagrams, upside-down crosses, "Hail Satan," the number 666 and a picture of Jesus with his private parts (looking uncircumcised) exposed -- all greeted by wild laughter from the audience. I felt uncomfortable and it takes a lot to do that with me. That puppet sex scene is like watching porn.

Kudish is as uncomfortable trying to figure out what to do with his stereotypical role as the character is trying to figure out how to ask Margery out. Carr shouts all her lines in one tone.

If you really want to see a show that bashes God and Christians, wait until I have a chance to review An Act of God starring Jim Parsons, which opens May 28. Somehow, I am guessing it will be funnier.

More information:
The design team for Hand to God includes costumes by Sydney Maresca, lighting by Jason Lyons, sound by Jill BC Du Boff, puppet design by Marte Johanne Ekhougen, and fight direction by Robert Westley.

It plays at the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th St., NYC;

Christians might like to know:
In addition to the concerns listed above..
-- Sexual dialogue
-- Bondage
-- Ripping of bible
-- Cursing against God
-- Lord's name taken in vain
-- Language
-- Graphic violence with blood

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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