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Hand to God

From its emergence in the Paleolithic age as jungle tribes, to the present times of nuclear families and singles, humankind has attempted to manage its instinctive and subconscious urges by developing ego-driven rationalizations and ideological suppressants. It started with rituals that included fire, music, dancing, chanting, masks, and storytelling (the roots of theatre), which eventually degraded into religious and civic dogma. In Robert Askin's Hand to God, currently running at Curious Theatre Company, the hand puppet Tyrone serves as a vehicle for breaking all these rules and vocalizing the imperatives of what psychology calls our shadow.

John Hauser as Jason/Tyrone
John Hauser as Jason/Tyrone
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Tyrone is actually the alter-ego of Jason (John Hauser), who attends the puppet club at the local evangelical church, where his mom, Margery (Tara Falk) oversees this gathering, designed to inculcate "Christian" values. There, they hang out with Timothy (John Jurcheck), a high school rebel, and Jessica (Jenna Moll Reyes), on whom Jason has a crush. Pastor Greg (Michael McNeill) has his own crush on Margery, which is why he offered her the job, in a motivational mix of pastoral concern and self-interest.

It's worth noting that such puppet clubs are common in southern religious settings, and are not an invented comedic conceit; though, indeed, it's easy to see them as such. But somewhere along the line, the best laid plans of Pastor Greg and Margery take a wrong turn, and the puppet theatre turns into an outlet for repressed sexual feelings and accusations of demonic possession.

John Hauser as Jason/Tyrone and Tara Falk as Margery
John Hauser as Jason/Tyrone
and Tara Falk as Margery
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Hauser's performance, as Jason, the mixed up adolescent, and as Tyrone, the unbridled libido and bottled up id, is stunning in its nuances in character as well as puppetry, and hilarious in its quick witted and uptempo "self talk." As Tyrone is unleashed, the interactions between the hydra-headed teenager with other characters heat up to the point of explosion.

Falk's volatile embodiment of Margery's emotional and sexual repression fused with hyperbolic stress literally reverberates throughout the theatre. Her hot scene with the smoldering renegade, Timothy (Jurcheck), removes the last trappings of civilized behavior from the action and sends the play into the stratosphere. Jurcheck is irrepressible as the leather-clad, "leader of the pack" archetype, as he hilariously explores the boundaries of Timothy's approach to the opposite sex.

Michael McNeill as Pastor Greg and Tara Falk as Margery
Michael McNeill as Pastor Greg
and Tara Falk as Margery
Photo: Michael Ensminger
As the trappings of moral society fall by the wayside, Reyes morphs from a circumspect bystander to lascivious participant. Her facial expressions during Jessica and Jason's puppet sex are priceless, pushing the audience over the edge with laughter. McNeill is a wry straight man, as he swings from an upright clergy to an upright ... uh, "interested party."

After the dark forces of the unconscious have had their moment in the sun, and there is nothing to do but pick up the pieces of yesterday's life, Margery says to Jason, "Let's go get us some help."

If there is anything that can help, it must be something that furthers their and our collective evolution, which begins with overcoming the tyranny (Tyrone-y) of the instincts and ego, and leads to a higher consciousness that redirects the primal forces at sway in this parable.

Jenna Moll Reyes as Jessica, John Hauser as Jason/Tyrone, and John Jurcheck as Timothy
Jenna Moll Reyes as Jessica,
John Hauser as Jason/Tyrone,
and John Jurcheck as Timothy
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Clearly, as we have seen in this election season, there are forces at work in individuals, the masses, and from the .00001% that resist such a solution, but the time has come when we have little choice but to try. As W.H. Auden wrote in his poem, "September 1, 1939," "We must love one another or die."

Curious Theatre Company's presentation of Hand to God, by Robert Askins, directed by Dee Covington, runs through December 17th. For tickets: http://curioustheatre.org/hand-to-god.

Bob Bows



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