Hand to God Review @ Curious Theatre Company

January 18, 2017

There continues to be a fine line between being provocative for its very namesake, and being so which acts in an entirely subservient manner to the centrality of the plot. While Hand to God is better off than most in being so overtly flagrant in, if not stirring then, traumatizing the senses, it suffers from many flaws which debilitate an otherwise impressive story. It appears more or less as an atheistic catharsis seeking to retaliate against the tyranny of Sunday School rather than something revelatory in what is fundamental to the human condition.


Clearly, the human elements examined here and played with can be equally portrayed in any other context. Thus, to make a setting particular, it ought to be used more than just a vehicle for the message, or even an ingenious perspective of reality for the audience who may not otherwise feel seething when stepping into a stage designed to be a Sunday School. What is unique to the setting which makes the drama necessitate it? Hand to God can answer deftly the need for hand puppetry in the Sunday School, with the childish productions leading to the unwinding of the plot. And the entire setup of this theatrical construction of a story is maneuvered impressively. We experience the legitimacy of a boy struggling with serious trauma finding a means of escape through an uninhibited puppet, and for the love of his mother, he is willing to allow his disturbed emotions to prosper, lest she lose her position of managing the child activities in the Church.


Aside from the amazing technical mastery of the puppeteering from the actors who had no formal experience, the use of this device in itself is innovative and ought to be commended. The fact it ties so well with Sunday school, however, does not rise beyond more than a convenience. We scantly have the opportunity to have revealed to us the exhaustion of the Church, its disagreeable interruption with contemporary life which in reality has led to many church closures nationwide, and the inefficiencies of running an organization which ought to be inspired toward the sacred yet concerns itself with something as base as keeping the lights on.


Indeed, we are not allowed to have revealed before us the consideration that many successful churches become so through entertainment and delivering to its pulpit what churchgoers want, much like a consumer business, rather than a house of worship which helps the soul re-calibrate itself toward the Divine much as visiting a physical therapist reconfigures misaligned muscular movements. Instead, we are taken in an extremely bizarre verge toward producing satanic ritualistic ornaments on the stage as part of the psychic outlet of the boy and his puppet.


The playwright was not being Satanic with such an excuse of quote artistic liberty. He was childishly striking back at being mandated to pay lip service to an inculcation he refuses to believe in. While we can allow in our suspension of disbelief a puppet that is satanic out of sheer immersion in evil as a cathartic mannerism to combat the traumatic effects of living in a reality that is infinitely independent of the subject,-the subject in this case is Jason the boy who handles the puppet-and which causes such a devastation to Jason’s psyche, the fact it eviscerates the source of his mother’s being maybe is contradictory to the story’s logic.


To simultaneously allow the puppet to be unleashed as a psychological coping mechanism out of love for his mother, yet the possession of the puppet destroys the prime directive of sustaining it, could plausibly demonstrate the uncontrolled force of this psychiatric disturbance in the boy. That he is overtaken by the pleasure of the release of havoc is sensible and even further his schizophrenic break from reality could all well be feasible too. Yet what then is the purpose of the aggrandizement of the puppet within his schizophrenia? Sheer destruction? The avoidance of sending the boy immediately to the psych ward is a piece of good story telling, as again the entire organization of the Church is bent on keeping the show going, so any absences could ruin the flow of feed at the trough. Yet clearly, when the boy becomes so twistedly Satanic, it is a stretch to keep the puppet show going.


The fact the Satanism was experienced so casually by his mother and the Reverend, two deeply religious individuals, is a major defect in the mechanics of the script. In this vein, we are not allowed to meditate on the struggle of a religious individual balancing the sacred and the profane, and instead of humanizing the religious leaders by showing their own struggle with keeping a sick boy serving their ends, we are left with in fact nothing, only a bit of deflated air, of seeing them acting as witnesses rather than arbiters in the prevention of the self-destruction of Jason.


While Hand to God presents many innovations in a storyline, it mainly suffers from the mortal wound to any play, and that is a suspension of disbelief. Instead of an imperious critique of organized religion in contemporary society, we have a canvass of the struggle of dealing with a significant life altering event painted over in angry red, as if the Christian religion failed the boy in inculcating an ability to adapt to trauma. That is but a mere conjecture, as the play is more keen to entertain the frailty of the human condition yet somehow jab a religious institution for perhaps even enabling such a possibility of psychiatric emergency. Hand to God is ultimately a condemnation of humanity for not yet having a definite answer to the riddle of living life, a fruitless exercise if one cannot offer an alternative answer.


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