“It’s like you’re that guy who tried to charge his phone on the set, but no one asked you to leave,” director Joanie Schultz says. “It’s like theater in the round, except reversed.”
“Hand to God” is the story of a Christian puppet ministry — it spreads the Gospel through puppets — in a small Texas town. (And yes, puppet ministries are real: Playwright Robert Askins’ mother was the head of one.) When hand puppet Tyrone takes on a foul-mouthed, demonic life of its own, all heck breaks loose. The possessed puppet goes on a rampage, taking all the other characters — human and not — along for a blasphemous, sin-filled ride.
“It’s basically an obscene version of ‘Hamlet’ with puppets,” Schultz says. “If Hamlet had a puppet, he would’ve been talking through a puppet.”
Indeed, “Hand to God’s” protagonist — Jason, the owner of Tyrone — is a teenage boy with a dead dad and angst about his mom dating his pastor.
Directing “Hand to God” is challenging, “because the play is so funny and so deeply meaningful at the same time,” Schultz says. “It’s walking the tightrope between silly and serious. Puppets can get away with things that humans can’t, and through them we get to look at ourselves with a little bit more distance in a profound way.”
Even if you’ve seen the show before, Schultz’s idea to transform the theater space into a church basement promises to completely change the dynamic. “No matter what, it’s going to be a very different experience,” she says.
For an even more different experience, show up early. The doors will open 45 minutes before the performance, so audience members can drink Jesus juice (bring your ID, they’ll be checking) and make their own puppets (all materials supplied!).
And don’t forget to charge your phone at home — the cast would probably let you do it onstage, but there are no outlets.
Studio Theatre, 1501 14th St. NW; through Aug. 7, $20-$65.
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