Photos by Benjamin High ’24

The Wabash Theater Department closes out the 2022-2023 season with “Hand to God.” Directed by Dr. Jim Cherry, “Hand to God” caps off a year of comedy with a provocative, puppeteering (and very much not for children) take on adolescence, love, loss and one’s inner demons.

Drew Johannes ’23 stars as Jason, a meek but principled teenager with a strong attachment to the homemade puppet on his arm, Tyrone. As the play progresses, Tyrone begins to take on a life of his own, threatening the status quo of the small southern church community that frames the play.  

Per usual for Wabash Theater, the cast pulls its weight with grace and enthusiasm. 

Veteran Johannes bounces back and forth between the moderate Jason and the more free-spirited Tyrone effortlessly, demonstrating great skill in his ability to multitask while puppeteering nearly constantly onstage.  

Brea Carlson also commands the stage as his mother, Margery. Carlson nails the harried widow role with tangible weariness and pain.

Drew Delor ’24 portrays Timothy, a troubled and aggressive youth, well. His character carries much of the irreverence and edginess the show is known for.  

Making his Wabash stage debut, German language TA Sascha Sackniess eagerly tackles the role of Pastor Greg. His earnest, optimistic approach nicely fits the clean-cut persona of the Texas preacher.  

Betsy Swift returns as Jessica, a creative, but frequently annoyed potential love interest for Jason. Swift performs excellently, but sadly has quite little to do within the plot, and feels pushed to the side at some points.

On a technical level, “Hand to God” excels as well. The staging is intricate and detailed, with the too-brightly colored church basement aesthetic coming through in every saccharine poster and pastel floor mat. The scene changes are cleverly executed as well.  

The puppets, designed by Andrea Bear, are extremely well done, with a lovely eye for fine detail and some effective visual gags that hold up at any distance.

However, this technically proficient and well-cast production is not without its flaws, largely coming from the script.

The play is marketed as an irreverent comedy, but after the first couple profanities uttered by a puppet, the novelty wears thin quickly. Yes, the incongruence of naughty puppets in a small conservative church is worth a chuckle or two, but only a few gags take full advantage of the medium.

More importantly, an audience that goes in expecting a comedy just barely on the dark side of tame will be blindsided by certain elements. There is a disturbing plot line that is a serious, dramatic driving force for the characters, but some of these scenes are underscored with a grossly misplaced comedy that feels entirely off-putting for the grave subject matter. Admittedly, the play is a *dark* comedy, but the fine balance in tone required for the genre is fumbled in a particularly inappropriate way.  

Perhaps some of the dramatic issues could have been resolved with a better-supported ending, but the finale comes so abruptly that the resolution feels rushed and incomplete overall.

Despite its imperfection, audiences may well find something to enjoy in “Hand to God.” Many of its themes and motifs are quite relatable, and there are some moments of effective comedy, as well as generally good performances. However, this dark comedy excels at neither securing great laughs nor nailing a serious drama.