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Art & Culture

“Hand to God” Delivers a Blasphemous Summer Punch at Studio Theatre (1501 14th St., NW)

By William G. Schulz

Welcome to Mount Logan Lutheran Church of Cypress, Texas. This God-fearing (sort of) congregation of (mostly) sinners is the setting for Studio Theatre’s season finale, “Hand to God,” the hilarious and blasphemous Broadway hit from playwright Robert Askin.

Studio’s Stage 4 is the setting for an immersive theatre experience that delivers full-throttle. Arrive early to Mount Logan’s basement “classroom” — a scarily authentic recreation of Vacation Bible School theatre-goers might recall from summers past. You will have the chance to make a sock puppet, among other other fun and games, and come thirsty — refreshments for the summer heat include two types of punch, probably spiked.

Liam Forde ias Jason. photo--Amy Horan.

Liam Forde ias Jason. photo–Amy Horan.

The play opens with a puppet show from “Christcateer” Jason — the remarkable Liam Forde — a brooding and intense teenager whose puppet, Tyrone, seems to be channeling all of Jason’s pent-up sexual desires, anger, and profound grief.

Jason, we learn is in rehearsal for a Mount Logan puppet show under the haphazard direction of mother, Margery, and joined by his longed-for girlfriend Jessica, and bad-boy tormenter Timothy. As played by Susan Rome, Caitlin Collins, and Ryan McBride, respectively, the actors form a tight-knit ensemble who take the play into deep emotional territory while never losing its comic edge.

Susan Rome and Ryan McBride. photo--Amy Horan.

Susan Rome and Ryan McBride. photo–Amy Horan.

Margery is under pressure from Pastor Greg (Tim Getman) — a Casper Milquetoast kind of guy with some of his own dirty habits — to have a puppet show ready to be performed after next Sunday’s sermon. It’s just enough to deliver poor Margery to the brink. Having just lost her husband to a food addiction, this southern belle is unmoored, searching for her identity and trying to keep it all together through the psycho-drama of Mount Logan’s children’s theatre.

But Jason’s alter-ego Tyrone begins unleashing holy hell in Satanic proportions. The temptations and volatile, forbidden thoughts Tyrone conjures push Margery and the entire cast to cross boundaries, draw blood, and reveal secrets that might land them all in jail. That is, if any of these deeply troubled characters is foolish enough to cast the first stone and call the cops.

Like his father before him, Jason risks his very personhood being subsumed by the devil at the end of his arm. An exorcism is not out of order before it is too late.

Under the direction of Chicago-based Joanie Schultz, “Hand to God” leads its flock into dark pastures of forbidden experience that challenge ideas of right and wrong, familial love, and hate; self-destructive obsession, and the healing power of human connections.

In this bloodied summer of the lone shooter and massive discontent, Studio’s comic send-up of organized religion is a thoughtful counterpoint to a wave of unrest that feels both frightening and historic. We are reminded of the danger present when any of us spins too far out into the darkness of mental obsession.

And say what we will about the mythmaking of religion, Askin’s play, ultimately, is a reminder that we ought to hold tight to any power that, before it’s too late, can bring us back from the edge of the cliff to receive healing and forgiveness from our fellow sinners.

Liam Forde. photo--Tina Revazi. .

Liam Forde. photo–Tina Revazi. .

“Hand to God” is playing at Studio Theatre’s Stage 4 now through Aug. 7. Ticket prices range $20 to $55.  For box office, call (202) 332-3300; for general information, www.studiotheatre.org

Copyright © 2016 InTowner Publishing Corp. & William G. Schulz.

 

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