by Sheri Berger
Hand to God is a hard, yet comedic, look into the lives of mother and son dealing with grief and the ways in which they, and the people around them, deal with grief and rejection. The show opens with Cameron Currie, who plays Pastor Greg, welcoming the crowd just as evangelical pastors welcome their Sunday flock. This welcome is so well-played that it will either make you feel welcome or make you feel uncomfortable, if that is how organized religion and Sunday morning church makes you feel. As a person who has lived in Texas, I appreciated the accents, as they were not overdone and were still very understandable to those who have not had to hear them much.
Cameron is a very believable Pastor Greg, who is a lonely and genuinely kind person, dealing with his attraction to Margery, played by Elaine Stueve. Margery is a widow, trying to figure out a way to grieve, and has decided she will pour herself into providing a puppet show at their church. Her deceased husband was a Vietnam vet and came home with severe PTSD. Instead of dealing with his inner demons from his experience, he was not a very nice husband or father, and became so obese and unhealthy that he suffered a heart-attack and died. Margery and their teenage son, Jason, played by Beck Damron, were deeply wounded by living with him and also by his death. Margery’s son Jason and two other teens, Jessica (Nikki Wang) and Timothy (Alejandro Alarcon), are involved in the production of the puppet play. But things go awry when Jason’s sock puppet seems to take control of him and become the reincarnation of Satan himself.
This show, which was done on Broadway in 2015 and received five Tony Award Nominations, has definite adult themes and adult language. It may also be a trigger for some audiences who have suffered abuse. However, it is a thought-provoking look at seeing situations from each character’s perspective. How do you grieve when you have people acting as an obstacle by asking you for things you cannot give, and then being blamed by them for their loneliness, as if to make you feel guilty or emotionally blackmailed? How do you deal with grief when you are still growing up and being bullied and wanting to be accepted and loved?
The entire cast did a superb job with this script. This is a play where you have to be 100% in or it won’t work, and the entire cast delivered. Elaine Stueve had probably the hardest lift and embodied her character. She has the ability to make you like her, feel sorry for her, and dislike her all in the same breath. Beck Damron was a pleasure to watch and had the challenge of being two characters, himself and his possessed Satan puppet Tyrone, and have the audience be able to tell which one was talking. Nikki Wang had a fun and kind-hearted role and was the most lighthearted of the characters. Alejandro Alarcon very finely played an obsessed teenage rebel, complete with a Metallica t-shirt and earrings. The physical scenes between his character and Margery felt spontaneous and believable, and not over-rehearsed.
Christa Retka, is the director/sound designer of the show and the crew of this production consisted of 13 people. Retka did an excellent job directing and casting this script. The staging was also really well done; as we were sitting on the side of the theatre we had no problems seeing the play. Quite a lot of uncomfortable, unethical, and immoral situations are brought up and shown, but the play never gets preachy – it lets you think for yourself for the most part and draw your own conclusions. In the end it suggests that maybe “The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves…” Maybe the devil never made us do it, and maybe we should look inward at our problems and not assign them to external forces.
Theatrix Theatre is a totally student run theatre, affiliated with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film.
If you go: Hand to God is performed on the third floor of the Temple Building at 12th and R Street in Lincoln. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the door one hour before performances. There is one remaining performance Sunday, March 1 at 2pm.
Sheri Berger is a business minion, dog momma, arts groupie, and is the co-host with her husband, Chris Berger, of the Platte River Bard Podcast.
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