Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Devil Made Me Do It

Forget "The Book of Mormon." The funniest play about faith, hands down, on the contemporary stage, one that had the audience (including me) screaming with laughter, stamping feet, wiping eyes, crying out with incredulity, is Robert Askins' Hand to God, which tonight was presented at the Southampton Writers Conference in a staged reading by The Ensemble Studio Theatre.

Ensemble Studio Theatre actors, from left, Scott Sowers, Haskell King, Geneva Carr, Steve Boyer and Megan Hill (and one puppet) present Hand to God by Robert Askins at the Southampton Writers' Conference in Southampton, L.I., NY

There was no program and I didn't take notes - I was too busy holding my stomach with laughter - so I hope Mr. Askins and Billy Carden, artistic director of Ensemble Studio Theatre, will excuse any inaccuracies, which I'll clean up later anyway.

The action takes place in what seems to be an anonymous Southern town where an attractive 40ish widow named Margery copes with a son, Jason, who has a sock puppet seemingly permanently attached to his arm, plus an intense 16-year-old who has the hots for her, local girl Jessica who can't seem to get near to Jason, and Pastor Greg, who would also like a relationship with Margery.

Things are getting a little tense since Margery is in charge of staging a religious puppet show for Sunday and things aren't quite coming together as planned ...

The humor comes from the fast, feverish pitch of the action - and the masterful work of these actors - and the constant dark absurdity of the situations with which the hapless characters attempt to cope, even as they attempt to do the right, the good, the holy thing. Possibly the apex of the whole thing comes when Jessica decides if you can't fight 'em, join 'em, and shows up at the son's place with a female sock puppet on her arm.

The scene that practically had me on my knees with helpless laughter had the son's evil puppet, Tyrone, and the female puppet engage in a series of, shall we say, carnal acts, while the son and Jessica are carrying on a conversation on an entirely different level.

Playwright Askins, whose photo is at left, was at the performance and I wish I'd known then what he looked like so I could have stayed and congratulated him. I hope Hand to God gets a fully-staged performance so more people can discover this fresh, original voice.

I have subsequently discovered that his mother actually did start a Christian puppet ministry and that he was a star choir boy. It is a great truth that you have to know what you are talking about in order to make fun of it and he has done this with great love. Well done, Mr. Askins.


  1. Love this Solange! I hope it gets produced...on the screen so that I can see it someday!


  2. UPDATE: "Hand to God" will be produced at Ensemble Studio Theatre from October 27-November 20, 2011. For more info, visit