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Hand to God cast

The Hand to God stage at the Arts Club’s Goldcorp Stage at BMO Theatre Centre is designed to replicate a church basement in suburban Texas, containing bookcases filled with religious books, posters on the wall, tiny chairs and tables off to the side. It’s simple and humble, perfect to start off what seems like a sweet, innocent tale to tell.

Oliver Castillo, Jennifer Lines
[Oliver Castillo, Jennifer Lines]

Once Oliver Castillo (as Jason) has a chance to introduce his puppet Tyrone on that stage however, the story is anything but. The Arts Club’s production of Robert Askins’ Hand to God is a twisted look at right and wrong as told through its five characters.

Oliver Castillo in Hand to God
[Oliver Castillo]

Margery (Jennifer Lines) leads three teens in a regular puppetry class. A middle-aged widow who’s still grieving over the loss of her husband, she’s a devoted lover of Jesus. Enter her son Jason, a young, impressionable boy with a sweet disposition. This is the perfect vehicle for his demented alter-ego, Tyrone, a puppet with a singular goal: toughening Jason up.

At night, Tyrone torments young Jason, eventually leading him to the dark side.

Once sparks begin to fly between lanky Timothy (Mike Gill), Margery and Pastor Greg (Shekhar Paleja), humorous moments are filled with anger and despair, and in Margery’s case, loss of faith.

Shekhar Paleja, Mike Gill, Jennifer Lines, Julie Leung
[Shekhar Paleja, Mike Gill, Jennifer Lines, Julie Leung]

Act two sees a torn Margery as she now faces her son’s demonic puppet, the fallout following a tryst with Tim and the lingering affections of Pastor Greg. It’s enough to send anyone over the edge, and you’ll have to see the show to watch how it unfolds in the end.

Many thought-provoking moments made us wonder whether it is Jason acting out his frustrations, fear and true feelings, or the puppet directing Jason. We can never really be certain, however one thing is clear: watching Hand to God is a crazy evening of good versus evil.

Jennifer Lines

Julie Leung (recently seen in The Arts Club’s The Day Before Christmas) plays Jessica, Jason’s mild object of affection.

Oliver Castillo, Julie Leung
[Oliver Castillo, Julie Leung]

The cast are stellar to watch, particularly Jennifer Lines, who gets to fully develop her role’s character and carry it through with gusto. Oliver Castillo also shines as the son with a devil attached to his arm, while Mike Gill, Shekhar Paleja and Julie Leung are wonderful, gifted actors, all of whom beautifully support Lines and Castillo during the two-act play.

Brian Ball’s set design contains revolving sections to reveal Hand to God’s two main locales. James Coomber’s sound design is well executed while Jeff Harrison’s lighting adds punch, particularly during the show’s darker moments.

Shekhar Paleja, Oliver Castillo

A word of warning: there’s a lot of profanity and dark humour in this show, so plan accordingly. For the adult set, this is a highly entertaining show that’s loosely based on Askins’ own life experiences.

Hand to God continues at the Arts Club’s Goldcorp Stage at the BMO Theatre Centre through June 15.

Photos by David Cooper.

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