By Tulis McCall
We are all fortunate that Robert Askins mind has its own private rabbit hole that he has opened to the public. Uptown on Broadway his play Hand To God treats us to the downtrodden and slightly shabby world of Cypress, Texas – down town at the Lucille Lortel he has invited us in to spend some time in Waco, Texas. He gives us the upwardly mobile world of two couples who, lacking direction and sensing that they are drifting, buy into a bucket load of horse hockey. With Permission Askins has pinned the tail directly to the Donkey and set it loose on the streets of Waco. He subscribes to the theory, as do I, that Waco is one “k” short of its rightful spelling.
Zach (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) and his wife Michelle (Nicole Lowrance) are entertaining neighbors for dinner in their sterile abode. As the play opens, Zach is more or less playing Christian guidance counselor to Eric (Justin Bartha). Zach’s sporting goods store is about to become two and according to Zach it is all because of the Lord who watches over us all. That and a ton of networking that Zach does at every church event under the guise of the community that is there to support you. Eric is acting chair of the computer science department at a local college and is caught in the headlights of the oncoming decision as to who should actually BE the next chair. In addition, his wife Cynthia (Elizabeth Reaser) is experiencing a general malaise. She would LIKE to write, but somehow cannot get around to it. After supporting Eric through his graduate studies she has decided to takea little time off. Like maybe a decade. Or two. In the mean time she has food allergies to occupy her time and a lack of sexual interest from Eric to fuel her anger. Michelle, although she is a full time lawyer and a possible City Council candidate, has enough time on her hands to do some fueling herself.
Michelle’s kind of fuel comes in the form of corporal punishment and what she has to do to make sure she gets somma that ol’ time bottom slapping. Seems it brings out the man in her man, and she likes her men nmanly. With a hairbrush in his hand and a bottom spread out over his knee waiting to be spanked, there is nothing that Zach cannot do. Or rather nothing that he thinks he cannot do, and after all is not the entire world telling us that if we can think it we can achieve it?
It is at the dinner party that Zach and Michelle’s discipline of choice of choice is revealed, leaving Eric and Cynthia in shock. Zach, however, takes Eric into his confidence and explains that this philosophy is part of a movement – Christian Domestic Discipline – CDD – and you should seriously look this up…. CDD promotes, in effect, spanking for Jesus. The Bible tells them so. There is chapter and verse spouted every which way that says it is the jusband who must lead and the wife must follow. And if that pesky wife wanders off the path, then a few whacks on the bum will be all it takes to bring her back to her senses. And then you can cuddle.
Soon Eric and Cynthia stumble into this beckoning sink-hole of relationship tools. Cynthia becomes a perky Stepford wife while Eric begins to take charge of his scholastic career, aided by his sincere and submissive assistant Jeanie (Talene Monahon) who is busy being diabilical in the sweetest way. While Eric and Cynthis are upping their devotion to their new lifestyle, Zach and Michelle are on a down swing. The several paths – aided by these actors delicious performances – meet in an a seriously unbelilevable denoument that is nevertheless hilarious. One gets the feeling that if the scene went on five minutes longer the actors would implode.
Back in March Robert Askins contributed an article to Playbill in which he advised us not to quit our day jobs. At the time of writing he was still employed as a bartender in Brooklyn while Hand To God was opening on Broadway and Permission was in rehearsal.
Nearly three months later, I am hopeing that he has disregarded his own advice, because this is a storyteller I look forward to following for a long time to come.
By Robert Askins; directed by Alex Timbers
WITH: Justin Bartha (Eric), Nicole Lowrance (Michelle), Talene Monahon (Jeanie), Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Zach) and Elizabeth Reaser (Cynthia).
Sets by David Korins; costumes by Paloma Young; lighting by David Weiner; sound by M. L. Dogg; fight director, J. David Brimmer; production manager, B. D. White; production stage manager, Katherine Wallace; general manager, Pamela Adams. Presented by MCC Theater, Robert LuPone, Bernard Telsey and William Cantler, artistic directors; Blake West, executive director, by special arrangement with the Lucille Lortel Theater Foundation. At the Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street, West Village; 866-811-4111, mcctheater.org. Through June 14. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.