- Last Updated: 12:38 AM, March 15, 2012
- Posted: 10:29 PM, March 13, 2012
HAND TO GOD
Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.; 866-811-4111. Through April 1.
There’s a scene in “Hand to God” in which two teenagers tenderly and quietly discuss their feelings for one another . . . all the while desperately trying to ignore the hand puppets they’re wearing, which are furiously copulating in impressively versatile ways.
That raunchy moment, which makes “Avenue Q” look demure, is typical of Robert Askins’ raucous comedy about a socially withdrawn Christian boy whose hand puppet becomes possessed by the devil.
Steven Boyer delivers a stupendous performance as Jason, the hapless 15-year-old whose puppet, the potty-mouthed Tyrone, becomes an expression of pure id.
Jason is part of a suburban Texas church group led by his widowed mother, Margery (Geneva Carr), whose prim and proper demeanor hides a raging libido unleashed by a bullying, sullen teen named Timothy (Bobby Moreno).
Margery is organizing a church pageant when Tyrone takes on a life of his own. Egged on by his wicked puppet, Jason begins standing up to Timothy and romancing fellow puppeteer Jessica (Megan Hill). When Tyrone’s razor-sharp teeth nearly bite off Timothy’s ear, a concerned Pastor Greg (Scott Sowers) considers an exorcism.
“Isn’t there supposed to be a young priest and an old priest?” Tyrone caustically points out, referencing “The Exorcist.”
Although demonic puppets are nothing new — check the films “Dead of Night” and “Magic” — that theme has never been presented as hilariously as it is here. Boyer brilliantly depicts Jason’s rapid-fire exchanges and climactic life-or-death struggle with his rampaging alter-ego.
Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s inventive staging includes some hilariously choreographed, steamy encounters between the wayward Margery and Timothy that add to the fun.
“Hand to God” gets a little heavy-handed when it tries to dig deeper, especially in Tyrone’s climactic lecture on morality. But its sharp-eyed satire transcends zaniness. And you’ll never look at a hand puppet quite the same way again.