Hand to God is a hilarious dark comedy

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Hand to God | Arts Club Theatre Company | Written by Robert Askins | Directed by Stephen Drover | Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre | May 31 to June 25, 2017

Margery, a recent widow, 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.  Jennifer 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), whom Jason has a crush on. The story could have easily fallen into a trap of providing too much context and background. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before things picked up speed and took a dark turn when Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, became possessed and spoke 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 pathetic advances, she turns to bad boy Timothy. They shared a wonderfully destructive scene in which Timothy shredded a poster for her as they talked in innuendos. Later, she had an exquisite breakdown in front of Pastor Greg as a bobble head Jesus looked 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 were also spot on as she rolled her eyes and said 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 seeming to be a manifestation of Jason’s grief at the loss of his father and anger towards his mother. Tyron’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 saviors if we learn how to overcome them.

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