Syncopated and over the top9/14/2016
In “Hand to God,” local standout Charlie Reese delivers another winning turn. As the teenage Jason, he works through the kid’s grief over losing his dad in a strange way — through a sock-puppet. The puppeteer may struggle for words, but not the potty-mouthed “Tyrone” at the end of his arm. Reese brings off the syncopation without a hitch, getting gravel into the puppet’s voice and a squeak into the boy’s. What’s more, he pairs every change with some grimace or smirk. When you look at his picture in the Playbill, it’s a surprise to see his simple Midwestern smile. Yet good as Reese is, he’s not the linchpin that holds together this wildly successful production.
Jason’s mother, too, has been knocked for a loop. Mama’s still suffering from her failure to curb her husband’s self-destructive habits, but already other men have begun to offer comfort. For this role, director Todd Buchacker has brought in Stacy Brothers, who lives in Ames, where she’s often appeared with ACTORS, but StageWest has her barreling down I-35 like a semi run amok. Every time Brothers swerves, with her hands in claws, there could be a wreck. During one long pause, following her preacher’s proposal of marriage, the woman’s smile grows so tight you can almost hear it groan.
The performance is deliciously over the top, and it drives home the play’s central connection that both the mother and son are between Jekyll and Hyde.
Around those two, the others, of course, register more quietly. Katelyn McBurney conveys a lot of spunk just with her eyes, now wide and knowing, now narrow and challenging. As Jason’s healthier option for a soulmate, she brings him something near peace of mind — and delivers the evening’s most uproarious laugh — when she proves she’s got puppet skills enough to handle Tyrone. So, too, Matt Beary as a teen Lothario, and Jonathan DeLima as the lovelorn pastor, rise to their moments. Beary can get his whole body into a horny grin, and though DeLima has the greater challenge as the sanest person onstage, like Brothers, he puts a real edge on every silence.
Buchacker’s direction brings out the seesaw tensions. A problem may appear under control in one corner only to erupt again in the opposite. Transitions like that depend a lot on the set, another inventive split-level from Jay Jagim (working with Randy Young). The arrangement opposes the bright colors of the crafts room, out front, with the darker upper levels, where the troubled boy has his bedroom. When Jason wakes from a nightmare, up there, Jagim’s lighting turns his puppet briefly to green-eyed monster. Terror and hilarity, in this case, make a winning hookup.
Overheard in the Lobby: Suburban theater is underway as well. Winterset’s Main Stage has Neil Simon’s “Last of the Red-Hot Lovers,” and Ames, beginning on Sept. 16, features the musical comedy “[title of show].” Ankeny began with the 9/11 drama “110 Stories.”