In “Hand to God,” good-hearted teenager Jason is forced to confront Tyrone, a violent, foul-mouthed bully, who just happens to reside on Jason’s left arm. Tyrone is a hand puppet.
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“Hand to God,” written by Robert Askins and directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, opens tonight at the Booth Theater It is one of the few plays that has made the move from Off-Off Broadway (at the Ensemble Studio Theater in 2011; “frisky new comedy“) to Off-Broadway (at the Lucille Lortel Theater in 2014; “the sweetly savage show gets the royal treatment in this Off Broadway transfer“) to Broadway. Critics loved it in its past incarnations.
What do they think of it on Broadway?
funny, filthy, violent and sensitive…Hand to God is not just a theatrical version of Triumph the Insult Dog. It is full of surprises. At times, it teeters close to horror…There is also full-fledged, over-the-top satire. Each of the characters behaves in their own outlandish ways. But we aren’t able to dismiss them simply as caricatures, as we might in a Saturday Night Live sketch. We are made to understand that each is looking for ways to find relief from their pain.
This is not a play for children. There is generous use of expletives. There is sex in the show – rough sex by humans and, far more graphically, by puppets. But it is a show for adults, with hints of psychological insights beneath the hysterical exterior.
Charles Isherwood, New York Times: “Hand to God” popped open on Tuesday at the Booth Theater like a cackling jack-in-the-box, scaring away (really) a couple of audience members at the performance I caught, but bringing peals of joy to most everyone else. In a Broadway season dominated by the usual fodder — musicals new and old, and a healthy serving of Important British Dramas — Mr. Askins’s black comedy about the divided human soul, previously seen in two separate Off Broadway runs, stands out as a misfit both merry and scary, and very welcome.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News, 4 stars out of 5: As in two earlier downtown runs of the show, Steven Boyer stars as Jason, and his acting and puppeteering are exceptional. Watching him do battle against his own dark side — Tyrone appears to yank him like a rag doll — is as good as physical comedy gets. It can’t be outdone — and shouldn’t be missed
Jesse Green, New York Magazine: Broadway’s unlikeliest new must-see play. I say “unlikeliest” in part because it’s the kind of intelligent, blood-dark comedy — disturbing as often as it is funny, vile as often as it is violent, and, to my mind, better for both — that would seem more at home in a small, subsidized venue patronized by locals…..As the dark comedy more nearly approaches its darkness in Act Two, with the consequences of human outrageousness brought to the foreground, the tale becomes more emotionally legible, and at times even heartbreaking.
Mark Kennedy, AP: Beware: It’s a show for those who consider “Avenue Q” too tame, for folks who think Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog, is too neutered. An extended puppet sex scene had some bawling and others searching for the exit.
Gordon Cox, Variety: Robert Askins’ furiously funny comedy about adolescent rebellion against religious cant has made a smooth passage
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: A scabrously funny scenario that steadily darkens into suspense and Grand Guignol horror, this fiery clash of the id, ego and superego is also an audacious commentary on the uses of faith, both to comfort and control us.
Matt Windman, AMNY, 3 1/2 stars out of 4: Boyer is able to separate Jason from Tyrone so completely that he is essentially giving two standout performances at once.
Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: The puppets are by Marte Johanne Ekhougen; the gloriously tacky sets by Beowulf Boritt, the taste-free costumes by Sydney Maresca and the subtly garish lighting by Jason Lyons. Clearly a singular vision is at work here, and much credit should go to director Moritz von Stuelpnagel for finding grace notes of subtlety in an unsubtle work, making Hand To God more than just a raunchy joke.
Stephen Collins, BritishTheatre.com: 5 stars out of 5. This is a major new work, a satirical social commentary masquerading as a silly farce about a demonic puppet.