Hand to God

by John Stoltenberg

So this strange thing happened. I was sitting at a table in a church basement that happened to be on the fourth floor of Studio Theatre, and I was waiting to see a show called Hand to God. And right there in front of me were artsy-craftsy supplies and a plain white stocking that looked like it wanted with all its heart to become a sock puppet. So I fulfilled its wish. This is me with the puppet I made. You can see a friendly picture of Jesus  on the bulletin board behind us.

John Stoltenberg & puppet

John Stoltenberg and puppet at Studio Theatre’s Hand to God.

The puppet stayed pretty quiet during the show. Didn’t cause any disruption or anything. But when we got home things went weird. The puppet started talking. Out of the blue, it took on a life of its own, just like the foul-mouthed puppet Tyrone in Hand to God! So I turned on my tape recorder. I mean, what else was I to do?

John: So, um, how did you like the play?

Puppet: Loved, loved, loved the puppets! Especially Tyrone and that chick puppet he fucks.

Wait, wait, I can’t have you talking like that. I’m doing a proper writeup about Hand to God—an appreciation of its artfulness and important deep themes and such.

Are you going to review the puppets?

I wasn’t planning to, no.

Oh, dude, that so pisses me off. If there are puppets in a show, who do they always send to review it? A person, that’s who. They never send a puppet. That’s so flesh-and-bloodist.

Um, okay, I get your point. So would you like to do it?

Are you shittin me?

I’ll introduce you to DC Metro Theater Arts readers as the world’s first puppet critic of puppet performances.

Can I say whatever the goddam hell I want?

You can say whatever.

Deal. I would shake on it but I’m careful what I put in my mouth.

I understand. So what can I tell them is your name?

Timon.

Like Timon My Hand? [chuckles lamely]

No, knucklehead. Like Magic Timon.

Okay, Magic Timon. So let’s start with Margery, the character Susan Rome plays. Margery is head of the Christian puppet ministry at Mount Logan Lutheran Church, and she has a puppet named Rita who appears briefly at the beginning.

Rita gave a brilliant performance—absolutely star quality—even though the role was grievously underwritten. All Rita has is one line: “I love Jesus! Do you love Jesus?” The playwright didn’t give her much to work with, but she gave it her all, and you have to hand it to trouper puppets like Rita who have big hearts in small parts.

Next?

Well there’s Pastor Greg, played by Tim Getman, but, um, he didn’t have a puppet.

With all the out-of-work puppets there are, that’s shameful!

But—by assigning Margery to have the teenagers put together a puppet show ready for next Sunday’s church service, he’s creating jobs for puppets! So that’s cool, isn’t it? And Christian charity too?

Okay, he’s forgiven. Plus as a 100-percent cotton sock puppet I have a soft spot for men of the cloth.

Next?

Well, there’s Timothy, he’s the churlish teenager played by Ryan McBride who’s always randy.

How can he be Timothy if he’s always Randy?

Timothy doesn’t have a puppet either, I’m afraid. He says, “Puppets are for faggots.”

Ugh, that’s so discriminatory. Puppets are for everyone.

Agreed.

So when do we get to the slutty chick puppet with the big bazooms?

I really wish you could talk a little more…high toned.

You said I could say whatever I wanted.

I did. But Hand to God is in its own way a very deep exploration of some very profound themes. For instance one can find reflected in it each of Freud’s three components of the personality—the id (that would be Tyrone), the ego (that would be for instance Margery), the superego (that would be the whole repressive religious belief superstructure). Seen in an entirely different light, one can discern in the play the ancient tension between the aspirational Apollonian and the more base Dionysian, which Judeo-Christian monotheism recast as good and evil, God and Satan. And if one looks further—

I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. Can we please go on to that hot chick puppet?

I don’t understand how you turned out to be straight.

Go figure.

The puppet you seem to be obsessed by is named Jolene. She is operated by Jessica, a very sweet teenager played by Caitlin Collins.

I hate it when people say we’re operated. It’s so demeaning. It makes us into…things. That kind of cultural insensitivity is exactly why puppet performances should be reviewed by kindred puppets! [sputters in fury, loses a googly eye]

Here let me help stick your eye back on.

Thank you.

So I assume you want to review Jolene’s performance when she and Tyrone get down and dirty and Dionysian.

Oh, oh, Jolene! Jolene! How sensationally sensual! How wonderfully overwhelming! How piquantly prurient! How orgasmically original.

I see you’re into adverb and alliteration overkill too.

What?

Nothing. Never mind.

And her partner in that scene, Tyrone! Words fail me—

Yes, Tyrone is the puppet who— Is “lent animate life by” okay?

Cut “animate.” Because life is life is life is life is life is life is life is—

Okay, got it. Tyrone is lent life by Jason, the conflicted teenager played by Liam Forde. And in fact, you know, I had a terrific conversation with Liam about that the other day. You should read it.

I should.

Do you read?

Actually no.

So…Tyrone. The puppet Tyrone. As the world’s first puppet critic of puppet performances, Magic Timon, what’s your critical take on Tyrone?

I want to be him.

What?!

I want to be him. Breathe him. Feel like him. Inhabit him. Be all he can be. Do all he can do. I want to rage and scream like him. I want to cause bodily harm like him. I want to subdue other dudes like him. I want to fuck Jolene like him—

Wait, wait. Tyrone is your…role model?

Tyrone is my God.

Oh my god.

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