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Short North Stage becomes first Ohio theater to perform ‘Hand to God’

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(left to right) Danny Turek, controls his puppet Tyrone as cast Jonathan Putman, Chad Goodwin, Barbara Weetman, and Kate Lingnofksi pose for a picture promoting the Short North Stage production of “Hand to God.” Credit: Courtesy of Ryan Allen

When a cute puppet is onstage, one doesn’t expect it to give raunchy, risqué speeches. But that is exactly the case with Tyrone, the sock puppet starring in Short North Stage’s new production, “Hand to God” by Robert Askins.

The play follows teenager Jason and his mother as they cope with the death of his father through their church’s puppetry club. Jason’s sock puppet, Tyrone, begins to take on a life of his own, becoming a foul-mouthed demon that terrorizes the cast.

“I saw it on Broadway and I thought it was hilarious,” said Rick Gore, executive producer of Short North Stage. “It’s raunchy and edgy from start to finish.”

The show originally premiered on Broadway in 2015, where it was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Play. Short North Stage is the first theater company in Ohio to put on the show. Gore was recommended the show by Dayton’s Human Race Theatre, who claimed the material was too edgy for Dayton, but just right for Columbus.

Andrew Trimmer, a 2014 Ohio State theater alumnus who works at the Department of History of Art, is the understudy for the dual role of Jason and Tyrone. He agreed that the show has appeal for Columbus audiences.

“It’s something for those of us who grew up on ‘Sesame Street,’ but it’s 100 percent for adults,” Trimmer said.

Trimmer said the intimate atmosphere of the Garden Theater’s Green Room makes the play even more engaging.

“The absurdity of it is fun,” he said. “It’s an up-close experience you’re seeing firsthand and it’s fun for both the audience and the actors.”

A puppeteer was brought in to work with the cast through the difficult acting needed to bring Tyrone to life. Additionally, a dialogue coach helped them adopt an East Texan accent. These challenges were only compounded by a tight rehearsal schedule, with only two-and-a-half weeks to prepare for 12 performances, Gore said.  

OSU alumnus Jonathan Putnam, who portrays Pastor Greg, said earning his MFA in theater helped him take the craft seriously.

“At Ohio State, I learned a lot about techniques but also commitment — about committing yourself to a hard program,” he said.

Putnam said the show will be surprising for audiences.

“People have this idea of theater that it’s a stuffy endeavor,” Putnam said. “Here is an opportunity to see fresh theater that is provocative.”

“Hand to God” opens on Feb. 2 and runs through Feb. 19. in the Green Room of the Garden Theater at 1187 N. High St. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday with Sunday matinees at 3 p.m.

Tickets are available through the Short North Stage website with a $10 discount available for OSU students.

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