BWW Reviews: Tyrone leads the charge in HAND OF GOD's return to Short North Stage
With a nod to the opening monologue of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, sometimes the most terrifying of enemies emerge from the most innocent and unlikely of places.
Meet Tyrone, the star of the Short North Stage's play HAND TO GOD. It doesn't take Tyrone long to transform from a googly eyed sock puppet bellowing "Jesus Loves Me, This I Know" to a minion of Satan that terrorizes the Pilgrim Lutheran Church. For the second time in three years, Tyrone and friends take up residence at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus) from Feb. 7-24.
"We had an opening in our schedule," said director Edward Carignan, who directed the Ohio premiere of the Robert Askins play in 2017. "Everyone always requests that we bring this one back, so we decided we would."
Short North Stage returns four of the five actors who brought the play to life in 2017 with Barbara Weetman (Margery), Chad Goodwin (Timothy), Jonathan Putnam (Pastor Greg) and Kate Lingnofski (Jessica) all reprising their original roles. Matt Sierra, who plays Jason and Tyrone, replaces Danny Turek.
Those who missed the Ohio premiere of HAND TO GOD in 2017 should be forewarned. Tyrone isn't some cute puppet who wants to be a real boy like Pinocchio or who teaches youngsters the alphabet like Sesame Street. He is hellbent on world domination, or if he can't get that, he'll settle for control of the soul of his operator Jason.
Jason is still trying to recover from the recent death of his father and his mother Margery is coping with the loneliness of being a single parent. Since Margery can't sing and burns brownies beyond recognition, Pastor Greg suggests she might find refuge in the sanctuary of the church's sock puppet ministry.
Margery recruits two other teens: Jessica who is "more interested in Balinese shadow puppetry but I will take what I can get," and Timothy, who is more interested in cutting phallic shapes out of felt than getting a tube sock to sing.
Yet no one is really what they seem in this play.
Both Pastor Greg and Timothy swoon over Margery. The minister relies on using the power of his pulpit with meekness and mildness while Timothy uses his good old teenage lust to win her over. When the pastor finds out he has lost out, he cries out, "You gave me idle hands; I gave you sock puppetry."
Jason is also pining for Jessica. When Jason's lame sock puppet recitation of Abbott and Costello's "Who's on first?" routine meets with Jessica's indifference, Tyrone makes sure Jason strikes out. Using a voice that is part Sierra and part Kermit the Frog, Tyrone crudely tells Jessica what Jason really uses his sock puppet for when he thinks of her. After Jessica flees in disgust, Jason tells his mother Tyrone is "doing bad things to me," and pulls it apart. The puppet reemerges in the next scene, larger, eviler and uglier than before. By the second act, Tyrone has taken control and Pastor Greg tries to drive him out with an exorcism. When told "I wasn't aware Lutherans did exorcisms," Pastor Greg shrugs and says, "Actually it's one of our more popular rituals."
HAND TO GOD is not a rehash of the adult puppetry of AVENUE Q or THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS. Nor is it a charming poke at religion like THE BOOK OF MORMON. It's often funny, but it's also a poignant and dark look at what lurks in the basements of churches everywhere.
It's definitely not for everyone. Young Republicans and Moral Majority members should stay away. Since it's performed in a theatre in the round set up, I couldn't help but notice a woman squirming uncomfortably at Tyrone's lewd antics. She didn't leave but she did order a second round of cocktails at intermission.
Short North Stage's production of HAND TO GOD will be performed 8 p.m. Feb. 10, 14-16 and 21-23 with 3 p.m. matinees on Feb. 16, 17, 23 and 24 at the Garden Theatre (1187 N. High Street in downtown Columbus). Call 614-725-4042 for details.