The second act is where I clean up the mess," says playwright Robert Askins about Hand to God, now on its way to the Alley Theatre.
A foul-mouthed, evil sock puppet takes over the arm of the kid who assembled him, spewing forth lewd and lascivious language. Not exactly what the church youth group and its leader had in mind, but Tyrone has arrived.
Among the many amazing aspects of the Tony-nominated Broadway play — given its subject matter — is that Askins is a Baylor University graduate. Askins's play was performed on and off Broadway in New York and toured the Midwest, and is ongoing on the West End in London, but this is the first time it will return to its roots: Askins grew up in Cypress and has placed his play there.
In some ways Hand to God mirrors his own life; his father died when he was 16 and his mother had a public ministry. In the play, Jason's father has died and his mother, Margery, is the youth leader. Like the playwright, his character Jason is having trouble handling his father's death. “I had a lot of difficulty dealing with that grief. I had a lot of authority issues. All of those things swirled together to create a devil puppet that expresses a young child's grief.”
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Why puppets? “Puppet's funny. Puppet's weird. Puppet's a puppet,” Askins replies. “There's something great about Tyrone's hyper-masculine bullshit and his dark version of the world. By shrinking it into a puppet, it becomes a little funnier.”
The play, which shifts between tragedy and comedy, is in two acts, with a prologue and an epilogue. “We tried to take the epilogue out at one point and it didn't work. You wanted Tyrone back again,” Askins says.
“I love the theater, but a lot of the times I would see some things and think that's enough dinner parties in Brooklyn. How do you do something that picks 'em up and makes them laugh and makes them cry and makes them gasp? How do we really yell it? And I think people listen to that. I think a lot of the time, people come to the theater to hear somebody scream. Plus it's a story about family. Who doesn't love a family story?”
Performances are scheduled for August 24 through September 18 at 7:30 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26-$68.