Theatre B closes season with diabolically dark comedy
While theater is often described as "entertainment," sometimes it also engages conversation, evokes our emotions or slightly ruffles our feathers.
As Theatre B wraps up its 14th season, the company fully embraces all three of these ideals in the spectacularly dark comedy "Hand to God" — the story of a devout teenage boy and the diabolical puppet at the end of his arm.
Theatre B performs the Tony-nominated play by Robert Askins through April 8 at the Broadway Theatre Garage, formerly the Schumacher Goodyear Tire center at 409 Broadway in downtown Fargo.
Set in Cypress, Texas, the story follows young Jason and other God-fearing teenagers in a Christian puppet ministry, a church group formed by the pastor as a fun way to teach Bible stories. Plans go awry when Jason discovers his puppet, Tyrone, has a mind of his own.
The foul-mouthed puppet shocks the congregation when he claims to be the Devil incarnate, prompting the audience to wonder if Tyrone is truly possessed or if Jason is using Tyrone to channel his grief from the recent loss of his father.
Tyrone wreaks havoc on the puppet club members with his outrageous insinuations, causing them to wrestle with their most primal natures.
"The puppet is a catalyst for change in the lives of everyone in the play in one way or another," says director Pam Strait. "It makes them have to reexamine either themselves or the path they're on."
Characters in the small cast include Jason/Tyrone (Jake Hundley), Jason's mother Margery (Missy Teeters), Pastor Greg (J.J. Gordon), Timmy (Jacob Hartje) and Jessica (Crystal Cossette).
Strait has been a Theatre B ensemble member since 2008 and has directed several productions for the company in the past. She is a classically trained actor who attended the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York City, but she also enjoys participating in contemporary, edgy works like "Hand to God."
The play has been an exciting challenge for the actors, especially Jake Hundley, who plays Jason and Tyrone.
Portraying each character's expressions as they interact has been the physical challenge, Hundley says the emotional challenge was capturing the polar opposite dispositions. He mastered Jason's shy, meeker personality before he tackled the wicked Tyrone.
"Eventually it was stop and start. With more practice, I was able to make it more fluid," Hundley says. "It's probably the biggest challenge I've had on stage, but it's exciting."
Although the play features puppets, "Hand to God" is not suitable for children. Strait acknowledged the play may be controversial due to the harsh language and Tyrone's irreverence toward Christianity, but its purpose is to initiate conversation about morality and taking care of one another.
"We know that we choose plays that engender a lot of emotional feelings, make people ask questions or spark curiosity, but that's what theater should do. Theater should make you think, make you feel and sometimes righteously make you angry," Strait says.
"I hope the audience will be willing to walk along that path with us and trust that we're going to take them somewhere that has a meaningful end of the pathway, or at least a place in the pathway where they can walk away and say, 'Okay, I understand,'" she continues.
Hundley shared similar sentiments.
"('Hand to God') is not about religion or spirituality. It's about not being at the point in your life you want to be and figuring out what you need to do to get where you want to be," he says.
"Come in, sit down and open your mind, and you'll find something you can relate to."
If You Go
What: "Hand to God" by Theatre B
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through April 8; 2 p.m. March 26 and April 2
Where: Broadway Theatre Garage (409 Broadway in downtown Fargo)
Cost: Tickets can be purchased online at www.theatreb.org or by calling 701-729- 8880.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net.