Review: Arts Club Theatre Company's "Hand To God"

Review: Arts Club Theatre Company’s “Hand To God”

ndWinding down its 2016-2017 season is proving to be a difficult task for Arts Club Theatre Company. This year, we’ve already seen so many triumphs in the forms of brilliant productions, but the downside is a lot of ground already seems to be covered. Luckily, there’s something about Hand To God that seems refreshing and brand new in the best of ways.

Yes, we’ve seen puppets having sex in the form of the company’s Avenue Q. We’ve seen heavy topics covered in Angels in America. And we’ve seen unconventional theatre fodder such as As I Lay Dying. We’ve even laughed our asses off with Mom’s the Word 3Hand To God manages to take elements of all of those genres and mash them together in a completely unique entity.

Robert Askins’ script seems entirely hilarious on the surface. A trio of Texan teenagers partaking in an extracurricular church sanctioned puppetry workshop is funny enough on its own. But when one of the puppets is possessed by the devil, the laughter really starts. Yes, it’s funny in a twisted and chaotic type of way. But make no mistake– Hand To God has so much more to offer.

Oliver Castillo and Julie Leung in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Hand To God. All photography by David Cooper.

Underneath the crass talking felt monster, the jarring love triangles, and the bizarre subject matter there is a gritty, heart wrenching assortment of undertones and dark, emotional material. The two tonal forces manage to co-exist beautifully in the production in a wholly balanced manner. You’ll be laughing hysterically one moment and entirely moved within an instant. This type of cohesion is tough to pull off, so props to Arts Club for testing the waters, let alone succeeding so immaculately.

In terms of the cast, Oliver Castillo completely knocked it out of the park in his double duty as awkward teen Jason and menacing puppet Tyrone. Castillo made it look quite easy to carry on a conversation between two characters, complete with separate voices and able to manipulate the puppet as its own entity even while carrying on his own dialogue. It was an impressive double performance that was pristine from start to finish.

Oliver Castillo in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Hand To God. All photography by David Cooper.

Oliver Castillo in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Hand To God. All photography by David Cooper.

Hand To God only has a handful of characters, though, and they were all spectacular. Jennifer Lines was both vulnerable and witty as Oliver’s flawed yet earnest mother Margery. Julie Leung, a strong theatre up and comer once again, made use of her smaller amount of stage time by really delivering in her role as sassy classmate Jessica.

Production wise, the Goldcorp Stage felt a bit off for this show. You could really feel the sidelines in a way that made you wish they pushed the set back and opened the stage up to make better use of the space. But in a detailed Arts Club fashion, there were a lot of strong technical elements at play with smoke and mirrors (both figuratively and quite literally) that helped elevate the production to another level.

In Hand To God, Arts Club’s newest outing manages to be both unique and well produced– so seldom do these two forces marry so perfectly.

Main image:  The cast of Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Hand To God. All photography by David Cooper.

Hand To God:Written by Robert Askins. Directed by Stephen Drover.

Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Hand To God runs through June 25, 2017 at The Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre.

Tickets are available here.