“Hand to God” – Stray Cat Theatre/Phoenix Theatre

Theater Review – February 4, 2018


Stray Cat Theatre/Phoenix Theatre, Hormel Theatre, Phoenix Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

It’s wild, it’s irreverent, it’s blasphemous, it’s derisive, it’s impudent, and it’s very adult.  These adjectives summarize Robert Askins recent off-Broadway and Broadway hit “Hand to God.”  The show deftly uses puppets to assist inhibited characters in a crazy church environment reveal the far side of their bizarre, sexually-oriented thinking.  These dedicated churchgoers live vibrant undercover alter egos.  Some characters, too ashamed to openly discuss their sexual yearnings, reveal their proclivities through puppets.  The explosive production is helmed by Stray Cat Theatre and co-produced by Phoenix Theatre resulting in a riotously amusing production.

The show stretches the usually sedate Phoenix Theatre crowd who adore conventional musicals and light-hearted plays while bringing the more out there Stray Cat Theatre audience to a place they usually wouldn’t attend.

Directed with smashingly mocking and slyly delicious impertinence by Stray Cat’s artistic director Ron May and performed by superbly gifted actors usually associated with Stray Cat productions, “Hand to God” will delight broad-minded audiences who aren’t offended by raunchy dialogue, graphically suggestive situations, and plenty of x-rated stage action.  The New Yorker described “Hand to God” as “Sesame Street” meets “The Exorcist.”  That should warn easily offended audiences who can’t handle sexual innuendo and the pictorially illustrative staging.  “Hand to God” almost didn’t make to Broadway from its initial off-Broadway run because of its diagrammatic sexual allure.  I can’t warn prudes any more specifically.

Set in a Cypress, Texas fundamentalist Christian Church, the five characters go at it.  Elyse Wolf plays a swinging Mom, Margery, who has a strong desire for a young parishioner, Timothy, played with none-too-sedate adult cravings by sexy Vaughn Sherman.  I won’t spoil the obvious result of the couple’s yearnings.  Michelle Chin plays the smarter-than-she-appears Jessica who has her own aspirations that she exploits through her puppet, Jolene.  Eric Zaklukiewicz is Margery’s sexually frustrated son, Jason, who explodes sexually through his puppet Tyrone.  Understated Louis Farber plays a lying Pastor Greg whose physical urges have him climbing the Church’s walls.  To provide anymore plot details would destroy playwright Askins understated but sexually pervasive and very playful innuendo.

“Hand to God” delivers a super funny evening if you have thick skin and won’t be offended by constant sexual chatter and situations.  Just sit back, laugh, and be delighted by “Hand to God.”  It continues through February 25.  Let’s hope it marks the beginning of future collaborations between Phoenix Theatre and Stray Cat Theatre.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A