Many plays begin with a small town, riddled with flawed and traumatized characters, but few involve the personification of possibly demonic puppets. The play Hand to God, however, has it all.
The black comedy will be performed on Saturday and Sunday, and is hosted by the Lost Flamingo Theatre Company (LFC), which is the only student-led theater company at Ohio University. LFC puts on four productions each year, all of which are selected through a collaborative process.
Michaela Chilenski, a senior studying integrated media, is the director of Hand to God and the president of LFC. Chilenski expressed that she chose this particular play for its modern comedic elements, as she was excited to perform a relatively new show.
The play, Chilenski illustrated, is about a small church group in Cypress, Texas who endure chaos in their small town.
“The play is about a Christian puppet group who are trying to put on a performance for the church,” Chilenski said. “But then one of the members of the puppet group, Jason, his puppet is shown to potentially be possessed by the devil.”
Jason’s puppet, named Tyrone, is played by the same actor, Oliver Runyon. The puppet undergoes various costume changes as it begins to evolve and descend into a more evil creature throughout the progression of the show. The aspect of the puppets, and the notion that Tyrone is a reincarnation of the devil, is intended to be interpreted in various ways, as the play does not offer a definitive explanation to the phenomena.
Steph Schille, a sophomore studying integrated media, portrays Margery in the play, who is Jason’s mother. Schille believes the puppet is a coping mechanism for the character.
“I view the puppet as an outlet for your inner demons,” Schille said. “I look at my character, because she’s very promiscuous, she sleeps with a 17-year-old, and she uses a lot of profanity, but she’s an adult. So the way she lets out her inner demons is through physical actions and intimacy with things she shouldn’t. But the way her son’s projecting it is through a puppet.”
The play explores darker themes and contains obscene dialogue, which prompted the company to give the play an R rating. Joe Sarfi, a freshman studying music education, is the assistant stage manager for the play. Sarfi said the profane subject matter has religious ties, which exemplify aspects of societal behavior.
“The show is mildly-sacreligious in the way that it explores religion as a construct to basically give people an excuse for when they act out of order, and to keep people in order,” Sarfi said. “It is all about the control that people try to exert over each other. How people try to escape the control of society by saying the devil made them do it.”
Despite the intense symbolism within the show, Sarfi expressed how the comedic elements utilize absurdity and crude content to offer some virtuous reflection, while simultaneously making the audience laugh.
“It is a dark comedy, but it is most definitely still a comedy,” Sarfi said. “There’s so many great jokes, and there are moments that will stay with you. It’s really thought provoking, but in such a way that somehow manages to still include two people mimicking puppet sex.”
Heylea Allan, a freshman studying film, portrays Jessica in the play, the love interest of Jason. Allan described the character as three-dimensional, and she expressed that her character’s personality serves as entertainment as well as a personal connection.
“She’s the most interesting character I’ve ever played,” Allan said. “She’s so weird and different but she’s also just a lot of fun to portray. She’s a lot like me too, so it’s really fun because I basically get to play myself with a Texas accent.”
For Schille, the enjoyment derived from the performance of Margery is due in part to the outrageous content, which makes the play unique.
“I love how funny and crude the play is,” Schille said. “It’s so out of the water and unlike any other play I’ve done before. It’s a comedy-drama but it’s way funnier and out of character that makes me laugh all the time.”
In contrast to the darker themes of the play, Chilenski believes the audience will have an emotional and moral takeaway, while still relishing in the sheer humor of the production.
“I think deeper down, the meaning of the show, is to forgive yourself for the sins you may have committed,” Chilenski said. “It also symbolizes moving past previous traumas and being able to accept what happened to you and move forward with your life, and still having a great time while you’re doing that.”