Does Mama Know Best?

In Robert Askins’ Hand to God, a hand puppet named Tyrone takes possession of shy teenager Jason’s arm, putting Jason’s relationships with the town pastor, his high school crush, and his own mother in jeopardy. In the play, Brenny Rabine plays Margery, Jason’s mother, whose fiery gusto and unrelenting efforts to gain a sense of control after her husband dies cause comedic mishaps.

We met with Brenny to talk about the rehearsal process for Hand to God, her admiration for fellow cast member Harrison Bryan’s skills as a puppeteer, and the depth of this profane yet profound comedy.

Hand to God plays in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre through February 10. For more information and tickets, click here.

In Hand to God, you play the widowed Margery, Jason’s mother, who leads their church’s Christian Puppet Ministry. How does her husband’s death affect Margery? What does it drive her to do?

Oh, Margery. She’s so angry at her husband and lost without him. She based her identity on being a dutiful Christian wife, and now, she doesn’t know who she is anymore. She lashes out and creates calamities.

Things get a little out of hand when Tyrone’s power over Jason gets stronger and stronger. How does Margery and Jason’s relationship change over the course of the play?

They finally see and hear each other—all of each other, all the nasty, hurtful, and painful parts, as well as the courage and love they feel. It’s the promise of a more whole relationship. Of course, they’ve got a long road to travel, but we feel hopeful for them.

What was the rehearsal process like?

A dream! Everyone began each day off book, having examined the moments we would explore. We came with our hearts and minds open and with a point of view. Jason Cannon is an actor’s ideal director. He meant it when he said we would all collaborate and be open to one another’s ideas. Jason’s passion for this story and for these characters manifested moment to moment every day—with unflagging commitment. I revere him!

This cast offers willingly and respectfully to one another. Watching Harrison create Jason and Tyrone blew us all away. No one works harder than him – anywhere – he’s an Olympian.

You’ve starred on television as well as onstage, and you recently played Gloria Bainbridge on an episode of Gotham. What are the differences between preparing for a role onscreen vs. one onstage?

Well, my role on Gotham was small but spicy. How many gals can say they spent any time handcuffed in the back of a meat wagon with all the super villains of Gotham?

For every role, I try to stay in shape, and I don’t mean just for how I look. I tend to be cast in very physically expressive roles, so I need to have strength, flexibility, and stamina. I was once cast in a farce that made me run up and down stairs, in heels, twenty-seven times in the play. An actor has to start strong to do that. She can’t work on it over the course of rehearsals for opening night. Otherwise, it’s script analysis and intuition.

What excites you about Hand to God? Why do you think it’s been so popular?

The humor, and the depth of human understanding! A woman asked one of my cast mates if the play changed people’s minds. I thought about this a lot. We don’t seek to answer questions in this work about grief, faith, need, or failing. We live in the sticky mystery of it all.

I do, however, devoutly wish that after seeing Hand to God, people will be kinder and more compassionate to people in their lives who fail them miserably. No one in this play seeks to hurt anyone else, but almost all of them do! The audience will sift through the what happens to ask why and to wonder about forgiveness. It’s so extreme in all its attributes: hilarious, profane, profound, and eternal.

Why should someone come see the show?

To laugh. To think about when they can love through grief and failure. To ponder good and evil in the human heart. To watch Harrison Bryan perform from both sides of the divide.

Hand to God plays in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre through February 10. For more information and tickets, click here.