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May 8, 2017 | by  | in Theatre |
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Hand of God — Robert Askins

Seeing Hand of God as part of the Season of Hell at Circa Theatre; it fills me with PRIDE to report that I ENVY anyone who has yet to see the production, and that I LUST to see each of the actors again in… ah fuck it. It was pretty good, despite being a play of two halves, and deserves more than a lousy metaphor.

“The most produced play in America right now,” proudly proclaims the tagline to the New Zealand production of Robert Askins’ original script. It begs the question: why? Well, considering the whole world seems to have spent 2017 coping with various traumas from the death of musical icons to the global rise of conservatism, it seems fitting that Askins’ characters find themselves in a Texas church basement attempting to grapple with personal traumas. Jason and his mother Margery (Tom Clarke and Amy Tarleton) have recently lost a father and husband respectively, but personal trauma also leaves its marks on the lives of Pastor Greg (Peter Hambleton) and Timothy (Jack Buchanan). Jason’s awkward reality is soon turned upside down by Tyrone: a screeching, hell-bent felt puppet that looks to act on his worst impulses and to satisfy his deepest cravings.

Consistently using a puppet throughout, Clarke is given the task of representing two polar opposites within the same character (it is never revealed whether Tyrone is actually the outcome of demonic possession, or rather a separate aggressive identity of Jason’s). It’s a good job that Clarke has such control on, and distinct expression of, both extremes. His Jason is a gangly mess of scrawny arms, jerky movements, and monotone mumblings underpinned by an ever-present unease with those that surround him. Tyrone on the other hand has the mouth of a sailor and the bastardised singing chops of Justin Bieber and Lionel Ritchie. Perversion lurks at every corner of Hand of God‘s first act, from Tyrones prologue expressing the virtue of “shitting where you stand” without judgment, to the child-sex subplot of Margery and Timothy. Throw in Exorcist references, a heavy metal soundtrack, and a critique of conservative Christianity, and you have a deliciously dark first act that brings the house down, literally and figuratively.

Unfortunately, the message and plot of the piece in its second act reflects the nature of the set — prone to collapse. Hand of God never manages to recreate that same sense of all Hell breaking loose. Despite the transformation of the church setting, it’s once-virgin walls scrawled with expletives, the danger and tension of the play is lost. In the words of multiple characters: “what happens now?” Well, you get the best puppet sex-scene this side of Avenue Q thanks to the puppetry of Clarke and Hannah Bank’s Jessica — replete with a legion of different positions, gratuitous felt genitalia, and moments that will make you go, “oh fuck, they’re about to do that?” — but with this exception, Hand of God appears to have played all it’s cards. It does however go to enormous lengths to convince you otherwise, including a clumsy, somewhat schmaltzy, gory and altogether rushed finale.

The direction of Lyndee-Jane Rutherford and Jon Coddington’s puppets bring the best out of the talented cast throughout, and the physical comedy of Hand of God had people rolling in the aisles. I just wished it could have delivered on the darkness it promised in the first act. Then again, maybe I’m being too greedy — it’s not everyday you get a sermon on the virtues of defecating from a satanic textiles project.

 

Circa Theatre is currently offering theatre tickets for $25 for those 25 years old and under. Find out more at http://www.circa.co.nz/. A ticket to see Hand of God also includes a voucher for a free snack-size Hell Pizza, as part of Circa’s Season of Hell.

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