Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ubiquity of Sin in new Broadway play

A new hit play, Hand to God (a nifty takeoff on the Shaker maxim, "Hands to work, hearts to God") has received rapturous reviews. We have bought tickets, but will attend with our teeth clenched, so to speak, because we know that, in the midst of the hilarity, it will be blasphemous.

The play is set in a church basement in suburban Texas, with typical brightly colored children's drawings on the wall such as one would see in any Sunday school. The characters in the play are preparing to put on a puppet show. There are several of them, but the principal ones are Jason and Tyrone, who are played by the same person. Jason is a sweet but socially awkward young man who is the handler of Tyrone, who is a sock puppet attached to his left hand. Tyrone has a wildly comic, irrepressible life of his own and is unremittingly foul-mouthed and aggressive. Obviously, Tyrone is acting out the inner conflicts of his boy handler. Apparently the young actor (Steven Boyer) has a phenomenal ability to make Tyrone seem independent of Jason--a true tour de force, say the critics.

But what motivated me and my husband to get tickets was the comment in the New York Times review of Hand to God:

"What makes the play so sneakily resonant is how Mr. Askins [the playwright] exposes the base impulses, the sexual, self-debasing, potentially violent ones, that just about everyone harbors to some small degree." (Times review by Charles Isherwood)

It's always refreshing to see the illusion of innocence punctured. I am sorry this came along too late for me to quote in the section of my new book that treats that subject. A posture of anti-sentimentality is always appropriate for a Christian. Isherwood calls the play "a black comedy about the divided human soul." That's just about right.


P.S. We've seen it! It's not as offensive as we'd feared, though on the other hand we are all becoming more desensitized (alas). It's wildly hilarious, and Steven Boyer is indeed miraculous. The possibility of a Christian affirmation actually sneaks through at the surprise ending.