As the night came to a close at Stillpointe Theatre’s production of “Hand to God” by Robert Askins, my very first thought was “THAT is what great theatre looks like!” A truly triumphant show that delicately balances gut-busting comedy, with heart-sinking tragedy – “Hand to God” was near perfection.
The show deals with a mother and son grieving the loss of their husband and father respectively. As a coping mechanism, they plan to put on a puppet show at their local church. The play delves into devilish dark comedy when the puppet that Jason creates becomes the manifestation of his unchecked id; embodying all of the unprocessed grief for his father’s death. His mother, Margery, likewise deals with just as much unchecked toxic impulses. The result is a heartbreakingly funny hour and fifteen minutes.
Valarie Perez-Schere delights and astounds as the mother, Margery. Her anxiety shoots out of every pore in her body and she is in constant control of her instrument as an actress. Valarie’s portrayal of Margery elicits the right amount of sympathy without ever begging for the audience’s compassion or approval. She lets her character be flawed and she lets us love her because of them, an incredible feat for any actor. Valarie delivers a truly honest and vulnerable performance.
Playing her son (Jason), Michael Paradiso is absolutely superb. His physical mastery of the puppet that is attached to his hand for almost the entire show (named Tyrone) is downright impressive. His comedic timing is unparalleled to anything I’ve seen in the Baltimore area; it rings of H. John Benjamin influences and I am here for it! My only critique of Michael is that I wish there was a bit more separation of his “Jason” voice/persona and that of “Tyrone.”There were a few moments that did not reach their full dramatic potential because it was difficult to follow who was talking to whom. However that never got in the way of Michael’s honest portrayal of a teenager lost in grief.
The rest of the cast blended together harmoniously to form a perfect supporting ensemble, with a special stand out by Liz Galuardi playing Jessica, another person preparing for the puppet show. Her scene simulating puppet sex with Tyrone was absolute comedy gold.
The direction by Courtney Proctor was masterfully handled. There’s really not much else to say, it was done with the perfect attention to detail. She never let the characters wallow in their emotions but she never asked the actors to deny them either. The entire production was a beautiful, intricate dissection of our defense mechanisms, and it was incredibly funny and powerful.
Should I stay or should I go: GO GO GO GO GO! It is so refreshing to see theatre like this in Baltimore. Edgy and profound – the show makes you think, feel, and laugh, usually all at the same time. Don’t miss this feature- Stillpointe is absolutely killing it this season! Don’t miss out! (B)
Runs through March 16th at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on St. Paul Street.