Hand to God is a hilarious dark comedy

A possessed puppet disrupts a church group in a quiet Texan town

(Image courtesy of The Arts Club)

By: Tessa Perkins

Margery (Jennifer Lines), recently widowed, laments that she can’t sing and her brownies taste like tires. So, she contributes at church the only way she knows how: leading a puppet theatre group. Lines gives a tremendous performance as Margery whose son, Jason (Oliver Castillo), is one of her three puppet theatre students.

     The other two students are Timothy (Mike Gill), who has a thing for Margery, and Jessica (Julie Leung), upon whom Jason has a crush. The story could have easily fallen into the trap of providing too much context and background. Thankfully, it isn’t long before things pick up speed and take a dark turn when Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, becomes possessed and speaks of his own accord, sharing Jason’s deepest secrets with Jessica.

     Castillo’s puppetry skills were extraordinary as he switched from his own timid character to the aggressive, raspy-voiced Tyrone and back again with lightning speed. One of the best moments was his “Who’s on first” Abbott and Costello comedy routine with Tyrone. This impressed Jessica and the audience alike. We all roared with laughter when Jessica said, “Did you just make that up yourself?”

     The combination of a wickedly funny script and extremely talented cast made Hand to God a joy to watch. With puppet sex scenes, teacher-pupil sex scenes (Margery has a fling with the much younger Timothy), and innumerable swear words, this is a bold production that doesn’t hold anything back.

     Lines also doesn’t hold back as Margery, a loose cannon who has lost her sense of self and is grasping for anything to keep her grounded. Faced with Pastor Greg’s (Shekhar Paleja) pathetic advances, she turns to bad boy Timothy. They share a wonderfully destructive scene in which Timothy shreds a poster for her as they talk in innuendos. Later, she has an exquisite breakdown in front of Pastor Greg as a bobblehead Jesus looks on.  

     Jessica is another strong character, played with a biting attitude by Leung. She has some great lines such as telling Timothy, “You’re so far back in the closet you’re in Narnia” after he made a gay joke. Her reactions when her puppet is having sex with Tyrone are also spot on as she rolls her eyes and says to Jason, “How long do you think this is gonna go on?”    

     With all the surface-level profanity and dark humour, there are some deeper underlying themes of love and loss. Pastor Greg awkwardly tries to express his love, Margery is grieving lost love, Timothy doesn’t know what love is, and Jason is hoping to experience love for the first time with Jessica.

     Amidst all of this, Tyrone is the driving force of the play, at first seeming to be a character unto himself, and later appearing to be a manifestation of Jason’s grief at the loss of his father and his anger towards his mother. Tyrone’s narration bookends the show as he discusses aspects of human nature and morality, urging us to ponder our motivations for doing what’s right. Do we behave for fear of a higher power, or do we act out when we’re in pain anyway? As Tyrone suggests, maybe our demons can become our saviours, if we learn how to overcome them.

Hand to God is presented by the Arts Club Theatre Company and will be showing until June 25 at the Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre. For more information, visit artsclub.com.