Earlier this week, I went to the final preview of Broadway’s newest hit, “Hand To God.” I knew nothing about the show in advance and honestly had no expectations. All I knew was that it was “supposed to be great” and when I arrived, my friend told me she had heard the play described as a dirtier version of “Avenue Q” — a hilarious not-politically correct musical in the style of Sesame Street. Intriguing, I thought. Avenue Q is already pretty dirty –there’s puppet sex after all! — so let’s see how this goes. I had no idea that I would walk away feeling offended as a woman, and slightly mortified as a social worker.
It all starts innocently enough. The story takes place in a church basement in Texas and follows a mother Margery, and her son Tim. The two of them are mourning the loss of Margery’s husband, who recently passed away from a heart attack, although it soon becomes clear neither one of them is able to express the gravity of their feelings. In order to do something productive, Margery begins a puppet club at the church, and forces her son to attend. However, Tim gets a bit too attached to his puppet Tyrone, and eventually it becomes an alternative personality through which he can express all of the feelings, the outrage, and the sexual thoughts that real Tim is too “good” or “quiet” to express. Meanwhile, Margery ends up having extremely rough sex with one of Tim’s classmates, rather than expressing her own feelings of loss, grief, and anger.
Clearly, both main characters are severely messed up (which, in my opinion, is totally warranted. Losing a father/husband is insanely hard, and if you don’t have the skills to communicate your feelings surrounding your loss, things can go a little crazy!). But — and this is where the sexism comes in — when the other characters talk about Tim’s problem: he’s possessed by the devil. When they talk about Margery’s problem: she’s a crazy bitch.
What. The. Hell.
Why is it that when a man has a problem, we attribute it to an external force? And if it’s a woman, it’s a character flaw? I get that this is a play, it’s meant to be entertaining, and they did lots of funny props surrounding the idea of a devil puppet. But even so, why must we call Margery crazy? Could she not also be possessed? Could her actions also be due to some external factor, if not the devil, perhaps the pain, grief, and loss she experienced by losing her husband?!
Not once did the playwright comment on Tim’s character. The play consistently excused his actions by saying “the devil made him do it.” And yet, Margery was called all sorts of names and was shamed for not doing a better job at keeping herself together and helping her son. And… don’t even get me started on the young man she had sex with (after he continuously hit on her and pushed for sex, I might add. This was not the case where she “took advantage” of a young man). Was he shamed, called disgusting, a pervert? Of course not. It was all the woman’s fault.
I had other problems with this show. I didn’t like that they made light of some fairly serious mental health issues, and to be totally honest, I didn’t find it all that funny. But maybe that’s just me. Maybe I couldn’t take my “social worker hat” off long enough to laugh at what is funny in our society: sexism and people with mental health issues. Oops. My bad.