Manipulated by a Puppet

"Hand to God" runs Feb. 3 to March 19 at Berkeley Rep.


Michael Doherty is (Jason/Tyrone) in the "Hand to God" at Berkeley Rep.

Joel Dockendorf/Berkeley Repertory Theatre

Puppets can be dangerous. The art of ventriloquism hinges on the illusion of a puppet taking on a life of its own, independent of the puppeteer, which has led to a whole lot of horror stories about puppets and ventriloquists’ dummies actually coming to life. For that matter, the final debate of last year’s presidential election hinged on the future president’s childish rebuttal to accusations of being a puppet. A play about a foul-mouthed puppet is nothing new in itself, as anyone who’s seen any of the many productions of the raunchy Sesame Street parody Avenue Q can attest, but the sock puppet at the heart of the new play at Berkeley Repertory Theatre is a holy terror.

Making its West Coast premiere at Berkeley Rep, Robert Askins’ play Hand to God takes place in a small Texas town where a fundamentalist Christian ministry uses puppets to indoctrinate children. But one introverted teenager’s hand puppet, Tyrone, quickly becomes a lewd and loud voice for violent animal impulses and vicious truth telling.

After premiering off-Broadway in 2011, this devilishly dark comedy went on to a hit Broadway run in 2015 and a far less successful London production in 2016. Berkeley Rep’s production is directed by David Ivers, who helmed the theater’s raucous 2015 staging of One Man, Two Guvnors. Michael Doherty stars as the sheepish Jason with his monstrous puppet, with Laura Odeh as his uneasy mother, David Kelly as an amorous pastor, and Michael McIntire and Carolina Sanchez as the other teens in the increasingly demented puppet club. And of course, nobody plays Tyrone. He’s the one that manipulates everybody else. 

Hand to God, Feb. 3-March 19, Tue., Thu., Fri, Sat, 8 p.m.; Wed., Sun. 7 p.m.; Sat., Sun. 2 p.m.; Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley, $29-$97, 510-647-2949,


This report appears in the February edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

Published online on Jan. 31, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

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