Broadway has a truly otherworldly marketing genius for convincing experienced theatregoers who should know better that “this is a groundbreaking show”.
All those other ones weren’t. But really – this one is. We promise.
Like a mirage in the desert, this utopian promise is dangled before theatre-starved eyes repeatedly. It happens over and over – a slick and engaging stream of publicity that slowly works on you until you find yourself about to hit that “Buy” button. It almost never works out. You go only to find a godawful show and resolve “never again”.
I rarely go to Broadway, but a few memories of fateful decisions when I abandoned reason and got a ticket anyway would include OUTSIDE MULLINGAR by John Patrick Shanley at Manhattan Theatre Club and A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE by Martin McDonagh.
Well, on this trip once again those little marketing demons started to whisper in my ear. “Pssst! HAND TO GOD could be ground-breaking! It sounds really good. You really need to see this if you claim to be interested in the cutting edge of contemporary American theatre.”
I won’t tell you how close I came to falling for this nonsense on HAND TO GOD. Even though I just saw a deeply underdone non play by the same playwright. Even though there are pictures of yet another profane puppet all over town. Despite all the clear evidence to the contrary – I was still thinking that no, HAND TO GOD “would be different”.
Mercifully, just as that delusional, exultant soundtrack was reaching fever pitch and I was about to press down on the “Buy” button on TDF, just in the nick of time, I came across something from a reviewer I read and respect more and more these days – Misha Berson from the Seattle Times.
And BAM! The needle scratched across the record. The music stopped. I put the mouse down and backed away from the credit card entry field.
When you’re on the same wave length as a critic, all it takes is one confident line like this to tell you everything you need to know:
“Hate to be a killjoy, but I found it contrived and glib, derivative and queasy-making.”
As I’ve argued before, the reviewer’s job is to take a bullet so we don’t have to. In this case, Misha staggered out of the Booth Theatre riddled with lead – but still managed to send word back to the troops to steer clear.
“Hand to God” (Booth Theatre)
by Misha Berson
I won’t be coy here: I am sick to death of puppet sex.
There’s plenty of it, in this Tony-nominated new play that crassly crosses “Avenue Q” with “Jekyll and Hyde” with mental-illness melodrama and devil worship.
Many critics and theater patrons are finding Robert Askins’ genre-hopping Tony nominee hilarious. Hate to be a killjoy, but I found it contrived and glib, derivative and queasy-making.
The satirical targets are overly familiar. So are the grotesquely etched rube characters orbiting around a schizoid adolescent puppeteer, Jason (a deft double performance by Steven Boyer). Jason’s widowed mother is a horny cougar. The square family pastor (Marc Kudisch, doing his best to humanize the role) is another style of lech. The archetypal fellow teens in Jason’s church puppet-club class? A zoned-out, sex-crazed slacker boy and a smart, deadpan potential girlfriend.
I wish the thick coating of snark and exaggeration made me laugh more. But as Jason’s jiving alter-ego sock puppet takes over, urging him on to do increasingly gruesome things and require pronto psychiatric treatment, “Hand to God” amused me less and less — and failed to move me, when it tried.
My reaction may have to do with a generation humor gap. But compared to the cheap laughs in “Hand to God,” the satirical, profane snark in “South Park” is endearing.