Salvation Out of Hand

By Jenna Tensor and Becca Jennings

Socks, felt, buttons, and yarn. These simple items are anything but sinister, right? But add in some teenage angst and a dash of “the devil made me do it,” and you might have a nightmare on your hands. Specifically, a nefarious, obscenity-slinging, flesh-hungry sock puppet named Tyrone.

Being a teenager is hard. And for shy, inquisitive Jason, who recently lost his father, things are about to get even harder and a whole hell of a lot stranger. In the small, fervently religious town of Cypress, Texas, Jason’s mother, Margery, attempts to lead three hormonal teenagers to salvation through her Christian puppet ministry. But what starts as a crafty, church basement youth group activity, quickly turns sinister. Jason’s handmade sock puppet, Tyrone, unexpectedly develops a life (and a mouth) of his own, and he has less than Sunday morning personality.

Tyrone, the hand puppet, is crass, violent…and quite possibly the devil incarnate. Behind his beady button eyes brews trouble. Trouble that threatens to destroy Jason’s relationships with everyone around him — his secret crush, the church pastor, and even his own mother.

“Puppets aren’t just for kids,” shared Director Jason Cannon. “Adults are conditioned to suppress and self-censor, but the puppet is under no such constraints. The puppet simply speaks truth, brutal and unvarnished and indifferent.”

Since its Off-Broadway debut in 2011, Hand to God has entertained, shocked, and bewitched audiences. Called “as touching as it is screamingly funny,” by Variety and “a darkly delightful play” by The New York Times, Hand to God was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Play, and won an Obie Award as well as the award for Best New Play from the Off-Broadway Alliance.

“What this play does so well is to juggle humor—admittedly it’s jaw-droppingly raunchy and profane humor, but that’s the fun!—with big themes that we wouldn’t otherwise be willing or able to engage with in an intimate way,” continued Cannon. “The puppet allows those big scary themes to get close: death, depression, repression, guilt, hypocrisy, isolation, desperation.”

With humor and unapologetic verve, Hand to God asks what horrors hiding in our own psyches are just waiting to be exposed. What if our inner demons aren’t demons at all? What if we humans have been the puppet masters behind our own poor choices all along — and the horned, hoofed man downstairs has been getting a little too much credit?

“Consider the angel and devil on your shoulders… what if those are actually puppets?” asks Cannon. “What if those are actually just manifestations of you? Hand to God forces us to ask those questions, but we are so busy laughing we don’t even realize how incisively we are being provoked.”

Hand to God takes your most uncomfortable thoughts and turns them loose. It’s cautionary tale that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go for one hour and 45 minutes.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Hand to God rips off the band aid of those good intentions, revealing festering wounds of our own creation — wounds of a divided human soul — and one foul-mouthed sock puppet who just might be able to lead us to salvation by calling us out on our sin.

Hand to God plays in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre through February 10. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here.