Even more gratifying than watching the nicely directed, ably acted local production of Hand to God is the pleasure of seeing such a blasphemous black comedy at Phoenix Theatre, where one is more likely to find Dolly Levi making matches for the millionth time.
A co-production with Stray Cat Theatre, Robert Askin’s comic gem continues Phoenix Theatre’s savvy courting of younger, hipper audiences. (They’ve previously presented the naughty proto-Expressionist rock musical Spring Awakening, in partnership with Nearly Naked Theatre and, before it became commonplace to do so, a neat production of wicked tuner Avenue Q.) For Stray Cat, Hand (a 2015 Tony nominee for Best Play) is business as usual: dark, frantic, vulgar, and occasionally hilarious.
Much of Hand to God plays like an especially ill-disciplined hurricane, and the eye of that hurricane is Zaklukiewicz, whose performance inspires both awe and pity. As mild-mannered Jason and demon puppet Tyrone, he whiplashes between slapstick and fury, a striking technical feat in a sometimes simultaneous pair of performances.
It’s left to the viewer to decide if the boy is possessed by anything other than grief over the death of his father, another neat trick of this mysterious, high-velocity train of a play. Lazy-minded audiences in search of comic diversion will be as happy with Hand to God as those who will enjoy its commentary on what’s rotten about organized religion. Bravo, on both counts, to all concerned.