‘Hand to God’ is a crude, but hopeful, comedy about grief and dirty puppets

Capital T Theatre has never been a company afraid to push the boundaries of “decency”, but with their latest production, they may have made their boldest choice yet, with the dirty puppet dramedy, Hand to God.  With dirty puppets, rough sex, and in one scene a combination of both, this production is not one for the weak of heart, but for those willing to take the plunge and take a walk on the wild side, they’ll walk away changed for the better.

Hand to God drops us into a church basement somewhere in small-town Texas. There, a woman and her son, along with a pair of fellow teens, are creating puppets, and preparing to present a show their congregation. From these roots grows a madcap ride, as puppets become possessed, dark desires are revealed, and the church basement gets torn apart several times. It’s a raucous experience, but also an undeniably memorable one.

In many ways, Hand to God acts as a showcase for the astonishing talents of Chase Brewer. Not only does he play the kindhearted church boy Jason, but he also plays the psychotic puppet Tyrone, and this dynamic creates some of the most hilarious moments in the play. Brewer’s ability to move from shy sweetness to explosive anger is nothing short of amazing, as he takes on new physicality and facial expression with each transformation, and tears across the stage destroying everything in his wake. He’s infinitely watchable, balancing intensity, humor, and pathos in equal measure, without ever feeling stilted, bringing a sense of vulnerability to the proceedings. It’s a performance that’s sure to live on as one of the best this year, and one that should propel Brewer to even greater stages.

Rebecca Robinson has a rare talent for reaching the emotional reality of a particular work, but here we find her at her most raw and intense. She scrapes the very ventricles of your heart, grabbing tight, creating truly arresting moments. In the wrong hands, her character could become over-the-top or unbearably intense, but Robinson is smart to temper her boldness with a sense of sorrow, adding depth and truth to the role. We know her actions are wrong, and at times indeed frightening, but her performance makes it clear that she feels every bit of the pain she inflicts. It’s perhaps her most accomplished performance, which is saying something for a performer of her caliber.

For a play heavily featuring foul-mouthed puppet and rough sex, Hand to God is a surprisingly heartfelt and hopeful work. Though it’s often sacrilegious, and always uncouth, at its core it is a touching tale of grief and family. It helps that the cast doesn’t ever play this as straight farce, allowing each character to reach into their emotional honesty, while still bringing plenty of laughs.

Hand to God is playing at Hyde Park Theatre through September 17th. To find more information, and to purchase tickets, visit Capital T’s website at capitalt.org.