Once in a while a play comes along that is so different, it almost defies classification.
Such a play is “Hand to God,” the Philadelphia Theatre Company’s remarkable offering that runs from Friday to April 30 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre.
Forget every notion you’ve had about puppets as child’s play, but do remember that some of the most brilliant hits of all time have involved, yes, puppets. Think “Lion King” and “Avenue Q” for starters, and throw in “War Horse,” and it becomes clear that puppets can send big ideas.
Perhaps nobody knows that better than Robert Smythe, who has worked with puppets for three decades as founder of the critically acclaimed Mum Puppet Theatre, along with writing, producing and directing in the Philadelphia area and beyond.
This time, Smythe is officially puppet designer and director of Puppet Movement for this production of “Hand to God.”
“This play is yet another reminder that puppets are not just kid stuff,” says Smythe, who believes this off-Broadway and Broadway Obie Award-winning work by Robert Askins is powerful, meaningful, enlightening and brave.
The play focuses on the children of a Texas town who are diligently taught to obey the Bible in order to avoid Satan, but who are suddenly caught in a maelstrom of chaos when there is a shocking reversal. That’s thanks to Tyrone, a foul-mouthed puppet belonging to a lad named Jason, and that puppet has a very different agenda from the one espoused by the Christian Puppet Ministry.
Seems that Jason’s puppet expands the boundaries of decency by miles, thanks to Tyrone, the presumably simple sock puppet.
At the helm of the production is Aubie Merrylees, the actor who plays Jason.
Merrylees, who began acting throughout the Philadelphia area in his early teens and went on to Brown University and the Yale School of Drama, sees the play as a…