Categories: Kristen Schweizer, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: The Roustabouts Theatre Co’s Hand to God

by Kristen Nevarez Schweizer

March 10, 2024

Adam Daniel as Jason, holding Tyrone the puppet in Hand to God. Photo by Daren Scott

RoustaboutsHand to God is a feast for the hungry soul with gut-busting laughter and surprising sentiment provoked by a brilliant script and open-handed directing by Phil Johnson in a relevant, madcap story.

Set in a Texas church basement, recently widowed Margery (Rebecca Cringler’s San Diego debut) runs the youth puppet ministry. Her shy son Jason (Adam Daniel) finds his puppet Tyrone (also played by Adam Daniel) to be either possessed by the devil or the mouthpiece for Jason’s repressed anxieties and frustrations unleashed on a credulous congregation.

While marketed as an irreverent comedy, the smart story does more than lampoon Bible belt archetypes. Spit-and-vinegar dialogue brutally rips back the curtain on loneliness with flawed, empathetic characters (and big acting choices). Certainly, the diverse audience held those who believe in Jesus Christ as their savior and those who utter His name as a curse, yet the room remained united in laughter through the one hour and forty-five-minute ride. The mixed sounds—guilty giggles, shocked snickers, haunted hmms, and genuine gasps—proved the whiplashing see-saw between satire and sincerity.

Cast of Hand to God (L-R) Adam Daniel, Dave Rivas, Rebecca Crigler, Samantha Ginn, Devin Wade. Photo by Daren Scott

Robert Askin’s play was produced on Broadway in 2015, where it received five Tony Award nominations, including Best New Play.  Inspired by its savage vulnerability, I will confess too. If I don’t care much for a show, I’ll likely write about the costumes, stretch out the play’s synopsis, or dissect the lighting. However, when a show captures me, I have to look back at production pictures to remember what so-and-so wore because I truly lost myself in the story. Only now, looking back at production photos are memories jogged to the excellent parts of the cohesive whole: Lego blocks built to shape 666! Charismatic Devin Wade (playing teen horndog Timmy) beautifully walked the tightrope between predator and prey. Wait, wasn’t that an Amy Grant song during the set transition?

I could speak at length about savvy moments, but it does not reflect my actual takeaways from the smart, hysterical story. Askin’s bewitching comedy includes puppet sex yet delves into difficult topics around faith, loss, hope, and coming of age, and—thanks to it—I am still reflecting on my place in a complicated world. I pray this important, scream of a show is a word-of-mouth hit. I’ll certainly be evangelizing about it.

P.S. San Diego Theatre Month has arrived! Twenty-one local theatres offer discount tickets to their shows throughout March. Hand to God is my top pick for 2024.

Hand to God
The Roustabouts Theatre Co.
Directed by Phil Johnson
March 7 – 31, 2024
Tickets: $45.
San Diego Theatre Week Discount: $30.

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