In Hand To God, members of a Christian church in a small Texas town are preparing to put on a puppet show, however when a demonic sock puppet possesses a performer's hand, everyone's inner thoughts and intentions are brutally revealed. Billed as an irreverent and filthy comedy that is the love child of The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q, Hand To God spends so much of its time trying to shock its audiences that it fails to create characters we care about, or a story that grabs us.
Director Gary Abrahams has gathered together a formidable cast led by the brilliant Alison Whyte as Margery, who gets herself into all sorts of situations while attempting to prepare for the puppet show. Gyton Grantley, Jake Speer and Morgana O'Reilly remain highly committed to the teenage characters of Jason, Timothy and Jessica but the script can't decide if they are ignorant and self-absorbed teens or intuitive young people. Grant Piro as Pastor Greg is the most defined and consistent character in the show, and subsequently his performance is as close to a realistic performance as we can expect in a story around puppet possession.
Despite valiant efforts from the cast, the story never allows the characters to progress beyond anything more than a caricature. Writer Robert Askins works hard at getting jokes out with each and every line, however we end up with repetitive and often crass humour that barely generates a smile. It's also slightly concerning that one of the running jokes of the show revolves around what could easily be construed as statutory rape. Askins doesn't allow us to relate to or appreciate what these characters are going through because we are not given an opportunity to explore any heartfelt moments between them, particularly with Jason and Margery trying to deal
with the death of their father and husband.
Abrahams confidently directs the cast allowing for comedic moments to be played big and showing an awareness of when to dial it down. He ensures the technical elements of this production are all brought together to support the show. While the main action takes place in a community room of the local church, Jacob Battista's set design is cleverly constructed with scene changes within scene changes within scene changes that provide many surprises for the audience throughout the show. The second act allows for Battista to reverse his work with over the top destruction and mayhem that is great to see unfold. Similarly, Chloe Greaves costumes are simple but effective in portraying the personalities of each character.
Hand To God's irreverence and shocking 'humour' is unable to sustain audience interest with characters that are never fleshed out and a story that seems to be all over the place. While there is a deeper message here about loneliness and a need to connect with others, its inconsistent tone ensures that there's no way in hell it can be convincingly delivered.
Venue: Alex Theatre St Kilda, 135 Fitzroy St, St Kilda
Season: Until 18 March | Tues-Sat 8.00pm, Sat 3pm, Sun 5pm
Tickets: From $49.90
Bookings: Alex Theatre
Photo Credit: Angel Leggas