Everyone has coping mechanisms. For “Hand to God”lead character Jason, though, his method of choice spins out of control.
Jason is a quiet, earnest teenager in small town Texas and his mom, a Fundamentalist Christian, makes him join the puppet club that she runs at their local church. Jason’s puppet, called Tyrone, ends up becoming an extension of him to say the things he wishes he could say — but the puppet eventually takes an evil mind of its own.
The five-time Tony-nominated play — one of the most produced in regional theaters this year — is dark, edgy, sometimes naughty and “a real emotional journey,” says director David R. Gammons. We spoke with the director about Jason’s plight, his devilish puppet and a particularly unusual teenage romance.
What drew you to direct the show?
Personally, I’m really fascinated by the play’s take on morality: how we create right and wrong. I grew up myself in a religious family. Although I don’t consider myself religious now, certainly growing up and Sunday school in a Christian household gave me a really interesting perspective of the play’s kind of ironic take on some of those elements of how we construct the moral world in which we live.
Why is Jason driven to enact his life through this puppet?
Within the context of the play, Jason is dealing with the death of his father… Tyrone gives Jason the opportunity to act out in ways that he feels stifled in his every day life. To both manage the anger and grief that he feels about the loss of his father and then the sort of complexity of relationships around his peers.
What’s it like directing a play where a sock puppet is a central character?
What’s tricky from my perspective as a director is that in the reality of the [play], Jason is not a good puppeteer. [He’s] an inept teenager in the basement of a church being forced by his mother to put on a religious puppet show. On the one hand, you have to tell the story of that. But of course, the actor who’s playing Jason and Tyrone [Eliott Purcell] needs to be an incredibly good puppeteer.
What will the puppet look like in your production?
In my mind, the puppet – at least as we first encounter Tyrone – is little more than a dirty gym sock with two buttons badly sewn on that Jason is bringing to life… but before our very eyes, we see it growing, morphing, transforming as Tyrone grows in power and control and force within the play. And so, the trick is going to be how we pull that off so that it doesn’t seem like a series of different puppets but almost magically we see it sort of come to life.
So Jason has this love interest, Jessica, but there’s also this devious puppet involved. How does that work?
He’s attracted to Jessica but – as it turns out – the only real way fundamentally and the way which they can sort of connect is through their puppets. And so one of the great scenes in the play is the romantic scene between Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, and Jessica’s puppet, Jolene. Allowing the puppets to be a sort of stand-in for what they might actually want to be doing with one another is one of the most hilarious aspects of the play.
If you go:
Speakeasy Stage Company
January 6 — February 4
527 Tremont St.