Recently, I got to see SpeakEasy’s production of HAND TO GOD by Rob Askins. I had been looking forward to seeing the show for months! It’s one of the most “in advance” tickets I’ve bought in some time. I wasn’t excited for the show because of it’s recent hype and popularity, but more so because the playwright and I share commonalities. Askins and I are both native Texans, we grew up in the Christian church, we are playwrights, and we both went through the same undergraduate program at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
A photo from SpeakEasy’s production
What I was looking forward to in this production, was a sense of familiarity. Which, if you have seen the show, the world “familiarity,” is not usually the word used to describe the play? More often than not, words like, raunchy, R-rated, dark, zany, outrageous, hilarious, bizarre, and inappropriate are used, not the world familiar. What I was searching for in this play, was a sense of feeling known– a sense of authentic understanding from a fellow byproduct of America’s Bible Belt. This play could only be written by someone who came from the world it explores. It makes me excited and hopeful for theatre makers of the South. It makes me proud to be a theatre maker of the South.
“The way he writes about how visceral and angry and sexual we are — I feel like that’s who we really are at our core, but we spend so much time denying it,” said Geneva Carr, who played Jason’s mother on Broadway. “This is something that only an American from the South could produce, and yet it’s universal — it’s dark, messed-up material, but he writes it in such a deep way, it’s very cathartic.”
This production came at a perfect time for me while I am in grad school pursuing my MFA in playwriting. Having recently moved to the Boston area, and still overcoming a sense of culture shock, it was such a gift to my own artist’s well to have experienced this piece. It was a reminder for me that there is such power in telling the authentic stories of where you’ve come from. They are worth telling. They are worth exploring without your own judgement. Many times as writers we are told to write what you know, and for some reason, when I start to produce characters that start to show their Southern-ness, I start to get embarrassed and judge myself. Almost to say, “Hey, hush up, don’t reveal that to everyone else I’m trying to impress out here… go back to where y’all came from.”
Hand to God for me was a call to let those voices speak. Release them. Don’t repress them. Let them run wildly rampant on the page without you telling them to shut up. Let them speak! Embrace all that has pooled within you and just experiment. Just writing about it makes me excited and rilled up to release without judgement of self.
Askins, I hope one day to meet you– talk theatre of the South with you. I hope to share stories of youth ministry and tales of Baylor Theatre. Even more so, I hope to say thank you for being unapologetically you and giving someone like me the courage to be me too.