A foul-mouthed evil little hand puppet named Tyrone is on stage at RLTP on the arm of Dan Urtz, who just this week was co-winner of the Artie Award for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play for this role!
by Ann Marie Cusella
Dan Urtz and Tyrone, the stars of Hand to God
Back for Round Two
A foul-mouthed evil little hand puppet named Tyrone is on stage at RLTP on the arm of Dan Urtz, who just this week was co-winner of the Artie Award for Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play for his role in Hand to God. How, you might ask, could he have won the award Monday when the play opened after that? Well…in March 2020, Hand to God was rudely interrupted shortly into its initial run by a global pandemic, which you may recall, caused just about everything to be shut down all over the world. Now, while it still causes havoc, it has quieted sufficiently to allow the fully vaccinated and masked to enjoy live theater once again. Hand to God being an extremely funny and very poignant play, should you make your way to 456 Main Street in downtown Buffalo, you will be entertained from beginning to end by this riotous comedy that will leave you laughing all the way home, and most likely, into at least the next day.
If you like an irreverent comedy that skewers one of our most cherished (by many) institutions that takes itself very seriously, this one is for you. Written by Robert Askins, Hand to God won an Obie award, was nominated for five Tony awards, and was called “the most entertaining show of 2014” by no less than the New York Times.
Be ready to laugh when you see Hand to God
Not for the Devout
After a fascinating take on the Christian creation myth by Tyrone, the action moves to a preschool classroom in the basement of an Evangelical Christian church in small town Texas where a puppetry class is taking place. Fundamentalist Christian organizations often use puppets to teach children to follow the Bible and avoid Satan. Who knew? and thank you Wikipedia. The widow Margery (Jenn Stafford), a woman wound so tight one fears she might self-immolate is teaching the class to the obviously bored teenage Christketeers (yes, really) who are – her son, the shy and devout Jason (Dan Urtz) who misses his recently deceased father. His puppet, Tyrone, gradually develops a life of its own when it becomes disgusted with Jason’s inability to approach the lovely Jessica (Sabrina Kahwaty) who he pines for silently. Jason’s hesitation becomes fodder for cool dude Timmy (Henry Farleo) who loves to harass Jason while manipulating two Barbie dolls in a most unseemly manner, and who has a thing for Margery. Pastor Gregg (John Kreuzer), a kind and initially rather inept preacher also has a thing for Margery, who most assuredly does not have a thing for him. As this pent-up sexuality percolates, all hell breaks loose, and not just metaphorically.
Be ready for all Hell to break loose
Cures What Ails You
Dan Urtz is amazing as Jason. His performance is flawless as he becomes in thrall to the little demon when he resists his desire for Jessica and denies his anger toward his mother for her insensitivity to him. His voice deepens and has a growling quality when he speaks as Tyrone. As the puppet he is full of rage, with an acid tongue and the use of extremely foul language that horrifies the hapless Jason. The way he manipulates Tyrone is fascinating. It is as if the little toy really does have a life of its own.
Jenn Stafford is a powerhouse as Margery. When she breaks the bonds of being a good Christian woman, there is no stopping her. She shatters the rules and then stomps on them. She is a whirlwind of unbridled sexuality that is wild and hysterically funny.
Henry Farleo, Sabrina Kahwaty and John Kreuzer are all great in their roles. Ms. Kahwaty does superb work with her puppet, Jolene, in yet another hilarious scene where Jolene takes on Tyrone.
John Hurley directs with a sure hand. There is a great deal of frantic movement in this play, and he has it all very much under control. Dyan Burlingame’s set has the look and feel of a preschool classroom and she cleverly has a wall in the room that opens to reveal Jason’s bedroom and later Pastor Greg’s office. My favorite prop is the bobble-head Jesus on Pastor Greg’s desk, thanks to Props Master Diane Almeter Jones. The puppets are designed by Adam Kreutinger.
In addition to the hilarity and mayhem, Hand to God explores serious issues. The concept of good vs. evil, sexual repression and its consequences, and unexpressed grief and its repercussions are central to the play. The relationship between Jason and Margery is a painful one as he longs for her love and acceptance while she is frozen by her own grief. The young people struggle with identity and sexuality. Teenage angst, while often made to be something of a joke, is very real and often so painful. There are some very tender moments in this hilarious play.
Having run out of synonyms for funny, I leave you with the suggestion that this play is a great antidote for whatever ails you at this time. For as long as you are in the theater, and for some time after, it will make you smile, and that is always very healing. And if you ever behave badly and someone asks you why, just say “The devil made me do it,” and think of Tyrone.
Dates, Tickets and More Information
Hand to God is playing at the Road Less Traveled Theater until December 5, 2021.