Puppets are cool, but they are also creepy. Very creepy. Even the cute ones, like Kermit the Frog or Ollie the Dragon. There is just something deeply unnerving about how puppets seem like autonomous beings, even when their puppeteers are right there on stage with them. I think there is something deep and primal in us—something perhaps connected to the magical thinking of childhood—that wants us to believe the puppet is alive, and the puppeteer is just a servant to the puppet.
Hand to God
Through 7/10: Wed 1:30 and 7 PM, Thu 7 PM, Fri 8 PM, Sat 2 and 8 PM, Sun 1 and 5:30 PM; Copley Theatre, 8 E. Galena, Aurora, 630-896-6666, paramountaurora.com, $67-$74.
This creepy power is at the center of Robert Askins’s well-written Hand to God, about a mother and teenage son dealing—rather badly—with the recent death of the son’s father. The traumatized son is morbidly obsessed with the puppet he is creating for his church youth group (led by his mother). And his mother is clearly unhinged, at times too repressed and controlling, and at other times out of control and self-destructive.
I don’t want to go into more detail; I don’t want to spoil Askins’s tale. I will just say that, at a certain point, the son’s puppet starts voicing all the dark thoughts the son has been repressing, and then all hell breaks loose.
Directed by Trent Stork, the production is as close to perfect as you want live theater to be (part of the charm of live theater is its imperfection, in the hint of the chaos and possibility for disaster in real time that always hovers in the shadows). The story unfolds gracefully, building over the course of the evening, until the show’s dramatic ending.
It helps that the casting is terrific. August Forman is particularly strong as the troubled son. Likewise, Felicia Oduh does a star turn as Forman’s best friend. Jonathan Berg-Einhorn’s set design is inspired.
The show’s press materials compared the play to Avenue Q (which is funnier) and to Little Shop of Horrors (which has better music), but the comparison is misleading and unfair. This play is sui generis, a thing in itself: moving and powerful. And in the end, a revelation.