‘Hand to God’ stands apart from other shows in all of its unique, demonic puppetry goodness

Public Space One welcomes Hand to God, a daring and provocative piece to their performance space.


Emily Wangen

Zach Vig (Jason/Tyrone) and Eva Giacomo (Margery) run a scene before the opening night performance of Hand to God on Friday, Sept. 20, 2019 at Public Space One.

Kyler Johnson, Arts Reporter

From Sept. 20 to 28 at Public Space One, the Dreamwell Theater team will explore perhaps one of the wackiest, albeit entertaining, performances to be brought to an Iowa City stage. The show, Hand to God, by Robert Askins, inducts an entire audience into a world of inner demons, possessed puppets, and repressed sexual desires — quite an ambitious combo that the team executed as gracefully as actors can on their opening night.

Set in a church basement in Texas, the audience is immediately dunked into a childish, religious, Sunday-school-style atmosphere, complete with walls decked with crayon-colored drawings and biblical references.

The show revolves around a small cast of only five actors, all entangled in a multi-personality seven-character story. In any case, this limited number aids to quickly draw the audience into intimacy with the show.

Emily Wangen
Zach Vig (Jason) poses for a portrait with Tyrone the puppet before the opening night performance of Hand to God on Sept. 20 at Public Space One.

As soon as the lights fall and the audience members hush their pre-show humdrum, Jason, the teenage protagonist played by Zach Vig, and his perpetual puppet antithesis, Tyrone, open the show with a speech. Addressing the divisive and philosophical black hole known as morality, the two show how such concepts have always acted as a way to separate us.

“Right is for all of us,” Vig’s puppet said. “Wrong is for you.”

The real story begins soon thereafter when Jason, alongside his fellow teenager classmates, are all in the basement making puppets — under the supervision of the instructor, Margery, who just happens to also be Jason’s mother.

Having recently lost her husband, Margery is marketed in this show as an object of sexual desire, fought over by the two male figures despite her obvious godliness. Both men happen to be morally reprehensible choices, one being under her guardianship, the other the pastor.

Emily Wangen
Zach Vig (Jason/Tyrone) and Colin Mattox (Timmy) run a scene before the opening night performance of Hand to God. on Sept. 20 at Public Space One.

The sexual tension exhibited among the characters, and moreover, their endless desire to let it free, leads to a variety of jaw-gaping, attention-grabbing scenes that turn the church basement from a holy sanctuary to an id-ish fever dream: bras with golden crosses, a romantic showcase of tiny table flipping, and a doglike, violent consumption of a poster in efforts to win over a sought sexual prize. Stemming from one of these scenes came one of my favorite lines, standing out for its surprisingly lustful fashion of expression: “You are one stupid piece of trash.”

How sexy.

The shock value moments of Hand to God, however, do contrast with the show’s moments of real, thought-provoking content. After a brief dialogue between Jason and his puppet regarding whether one of them could possibly be the devil, Jason is left to stew in his own sinful muck.

All in all, this show throws it all at you: sex, language, and provoking thought. It spins your head on what a theater piece can become when allowed to let the shackles of puritanical thought behind — including, yes, puppet sex.