It’s an irreverent puppet comedy about a possessed Christian-ministry puppet. In the hilarious dark comedy Hand to God, a foul-mouthed sock puppet named Tyrone teaches those around him that the urges that can drive a person to give in to their darkest desires fit like a glove.
The good children of Cypress, Texas are taught to obey the Bible in order to evade Satan’s hand. But when students at the Christian Puppet Ministry put those teachings into practice, Tyrone takes on a shocking personality that no one could have expected.
“Audiences will have a sore belly from laughing, a questioning perspective on the themes of the play and the need for a stiff drink.”
Players by the Sea presents Hand to God Nov 4-19 on the Studio Stage. Written by Robert Askins. The play was produced Off-Broadway in 2011 and 2014 and on Broadway in 2015. The Broadway production received five Tony Award nominations, including for Best New Play.
Actor Austin Farwell plays Jason, a devout student participant in the Christian Puppet Ministry. Jason has avoided life’s temptations by sticking to the teachings of the Bible. But Tyrone forces him to question everything he knows by encouraging those around him to give in to their urges and desires.
Farwell calls Hand to God a “fast-paced, tightly-wound production featuring talented actors, succinct direction and professional caliber aesthetics,” he says. “Oh, and a bunch of bad language and puppet sex. Audiences will have a sore belly from laughing, a questioning perspective on the themes of the play and the need for a stiff drink.”
Actress Kasi Walters plays Margery, a widow in a devoutly Christian town who has recently lost her husband. To keep her occupied, her minister, Pastor Greg, asks Margery to run the puppet club, often used by fundamentalist Christian congregations to teach children how to follow the Bible and avoid Satan.
The teenage members of the club are her son Jason; Jessica, the girl next door played by Milan Alley that Jason has a crush on; and Timothy, the neighborhood troublemaker played by Myles Hughes whose mother is attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at the church. Rodney Holmes as Pastor Greg wants the puppet club to put on a performance at the church next Sunday.
“The guy that wrote this play is a genius, but he’s also a sadistic SOB in regard to what he expects from his actors,” says Farwell. “Everything has to be specific. I love dark humor and this show has it in spades.”
The show reveals Jason’s hand puppet “Tyrone” has a potty mouth and a sinister resolve to bend the congregation to give in to their “carnal” desires. Tyrone takes on a life of his own and announces that he is Satan, exposing secrets that the townspeople preferred left unrecognized. “Tyrone has a couple different incarnations. We meet him first thing in the show but as it progresses, he gets stranger,” says Farwell.
“I love challenging new works that have a message without making you feel like you’re sitting through a dirge. This thing is fast, crazy and wickedly funny. This has been one of the most challenging roles to date for me. It is an incredibly physically demanding show. Tyrone is even more physical than me and in many ways he is just an extension of my instrument.”
In his portrayal of Jason, FarwelI looked to the great physical comics from Jim Carrey to Gene Wilder for inspiration and wasn’t afraid to embrace his dark side to bring Tyrone to life.
“The physical and vocal demands, the concentration of pulling off two characters at the same time [are] big challenges for an actor. The guy that wrote this play is a genius, but he’s also a sadistic SOB in regard to what he expects from his actors,” says Farwell. “Everything has to be specific. I love dark humor and this show has it in spades.”