HAND TO GOD (PTC): The human comedy with sock puppets

Hand of God Philadelphia Theatre Company review

Matteo Scammell and Aubie Merrylees with his alter ego Tyrone in HAND OF GOD. Photo credit: Mark Garvin.

What a funny, nasty, smart show. Robert Askins’s HAND TO GOD under Matt Pfeiffer’s terrific direction, with a dream cast of local talent, is bound to offend some people, since it takes on all the Big Topics: good and evil, sex and violence, the loss of innocence, obedience to authority: in other words, Genesis.

HAND TO GOD is the human comedy with sock puppets (designed by Robert Smythe).

It all begins with the widow Margery (the superb Grace Gonglewski, who’s still a knockout), who has been holding puppet workshops for local teenagers at the local church. One of said teenagers is her sweet son, Jason (Aubie Merrylees in a dazzlingly performance—both skillful and adorable); he finds that his sock puppet, Tyrone, will not leave his hand. This sock-with-a-face turns evil and takes over Jason’s life. This requires Merrylees not only to talk in two voices in rapid-fire exchanges, but to manipulate Tyrone so it seems to have a wicked mind of its own.

Shy Jason has a crush on Jessica (Alex Keiper, no slouch of an adorable puppeteer herself) whose own puppet will get together with Tyrone – sock puppet sex has to be seen to be believed.

Meanwhile, badboy Timothy (Matteo J. Scammell who can swagger even with his pants down around his knees) has a crush on Margery, and soon caution is thrown to the winds, furniture is busted up and, to put it literally, all hell breaks loose. Pastor Greg (William Zielinski, nerding it up) also has a crush on Margery; he tries to rescue everyone from evil, but his exorcism and “limp-dick come on” don’t work.

All of these rambunctious shenanigans are accompanied by Daniel Perelstein’s music which sounds like something between a church organ and an old-time melodrama movie score. The cleverness continues with a series of ambitious sets designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge and lit hilariously by Thom Weaver.

[Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street] March 31-April 30, 2017; philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.

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About the author

Toby Zinman

Toby Zinman is Professor of English at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She was a Fulbright professor at Tel Aviv University and a visiting professor in China. She publishes widely and lectures internationally on American drama. Her fifth book, Replay: Classic Modern Drama Reimagined, was recently published by Methuen, and she has just finished an essay, "Visions of Tragedy in Contemporary American Drama," due out in 2017. Zinman is also the chief theater critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. She was named by American Theatre magazine as, “one of the 12 most influential critics in America.” Her travel writing has taken her all over the world, from dogsledding in the Yukon to hiking across England.