Review: HAND TO GOD

by Lynn on April 25, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Coal Mine Theatre, 1454 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ont.

Written by Robert Askins

Directed by Mitchell Cushman

Puppetry direction and design by Marcus Jamin

Set by Anahita Dehbonehie

Lighting by Nick Blais

Costumes by Lindsay Dagger Junkin

Music and sound by Bram Geilen

Cast: Frank Cox-O’Connell

Ted Dykstra

Amy Keating

Francis Melling

Nicole Underhay

A devilish, possessed hand-puppet named Tyrone wreaks havoc and hilarity in Mitchell Cushman’s clever direction of Robert Askins’ unsettling play.

Warning: Strong language and aggressive puppet sex.

The Story. God might be in the details, but the devil is in the digits in Robert Askins’ cautionary tale of what happens when we give into our deepest urgings, and saying “the devil made me do it” doesn’t cut it.

Margery is a widow of six months and she’s having a hard time coping. She tries to find  some solace in the bible and in leading a puppet club at her local church. Pastor Greg is the pious head of the church and eager to have a closer relationship with Margery.  The puppet club is composed of a ragtag of odd kids. Timothy is a bear of a young man who is not interested in anything except coming on to Margery. Jessica is a young woman interested in Jason but he’s very shy. Jason is Margery’s awkward, shy son and feels warmly towards Jessica but is too inhibited to do anything about it until he puts on his hand puppet that has a mind of its own and then all hell breaks out. Jason can’t do anything about it.

The Production. A loud-patterned curtain is drawn across the stage. When the production begins a growly voiced hand puppet sticks his head out of the curtain and begins to describe the beginning of the world from the point of view of a pompous God complete with how mankind rolled down the road to kill and wound whatever got in its path. The puppet is cynical, dangerous and devilish.

The curtain then parts revealing Anahita Dehbonehie’s cleverly deceptive set of a room in the church where the puppets are created by the kids in the club. The set looks appropriately like a cartoon which is fitting for a play and production that at times seems properly, deceptively cartoonish.

Jason (Frank Cox-O’Connell) only seems to gain confidence when he is wearing his hand puppet that he’s named Tyrone. In short order Jason goes from his soft voice to a growl as Tyrone, complete with angry commands for those with whom he comes in contact. Jason is beautifully played by Frank Cox-O’Connell who initially is confused by what is happening with the puppet. Then Tyrone takes over and there is a struggle with the basically angelically good, soft-spoken Jason and the growling-voiced devilish Tyrone who lurks deep inside him. The physicality of the ‘two’ personalities in Jason is impressive. Bravo to Marcus Jamin for the puppet design and direction of how to manipulate them so we begin to think of those hand puppets as real!

Deep urges and dark thoughts affect all the characters and Mitchell Cushman directs them with a sure hand for full comedic results with a touch of concern at how aggressive the urges are revealed.

Margery, as played by the demur Nicole Underhay, becomes a sex maniac lifting her dress when Timothy expresses his desire for her. For his part, Francis Melling as Timothy looks like a wild-haired teddy bear until he sets his sights on Margery and then their wild passion rears up.  Jessica, played by the deceptively impish Amy Keating, manipulates her vampish, sluttish puppet with dextrous hair flips (the puppet’s not her own) and ‘come hither’ seduction. When Jessica’s puppet and Tyrone are going at it in crazed sex, Keating alternates with grunts, screams and moans as the puppet and normal conversation with Jason who is doing his own groaning as Tyrone. This throws anything in Avenue Q (another adult puppet show) to the curb. Deliciously funny.

Ted Dykstra plays Pastor Greg with a fastidious moustache, slicked back hair and a buttoned down look. In his own unassuming way Pastor Greg looks creepy as he professes his attraction to Margery and she tells him she’s not interested. Pastor Greg seems to be the most ‘normal’ of the characters.

As always with a set by Anahita Dehbonehie, it’s very creative and yet efficiently simple. At one point Jessica and Jason bring two swings out from behind the curtain and sit and slightly swing on them as they talk. Next a ‘car’ is flipped up from the stage floor (really a cut out of the side of a car). Jason and his mother sit behind the flip up on the swings as Margery simulates driving. The two bob up and down slightly on the swings. Terrific image. Smart designer and director who work together to create it.

Comment. Robert Askins has written a play that delves deeply into our private, dark urges and created a play that is both unsettling and hilarious. He is illustrating how even the most pious have dangerous longings that can’t be suppressed, that are realized as something that might come from some devil deep inside. The play is a tug of war with the urge to be good and also bad.  It’s the kind of play that is perfect for the Coal Mine Theatre. And as usual they have found the perfect director, creative team and cast to realize it for their eager audience who all have their deep secrets too.

Coal Mine Theatre presents:

Opened: April 24, 2019.

Closes: May 12, 2019.

Running Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes with one intermission.

 

 

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