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Performing Arts

‘Hand to God’

The Tyrone puppets for the DART production of Richard Askins’ “Hand to God,” at the Durango Arts Center. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)
DART presents dark comedy through March

“Hand to God,” Richard Askins’ irreverent takedown of small-town America, the devoutly religious and the grief industry, opened the Durango Arts Repertory Theatre season last weekend. The dark comedy runs through March 31.

“’Hand to God’ may be based on reality, but it’s over the top,” said DART’s Artistic Director Jason Lythgoe. “It’s an adult cartoon, an 11 on a scale of one to 10.”

Given the annual success of “The Rocky Horror Show” and the popularity of last year’s “Reefer Madness,” Lythgoe and his colleagues began to dream about a season of dark comedies.

Jason Lythgoe, artistic director of the Durango Arts Repertory Theatre. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

“We tossed around ideas like ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ or ‘Wait Until Dark.’ Monica (DiBiasio, DART managing director) tossed in ‘I Hate Hamlet.’ It’s a period piece by now, but the jokes hold up,” he said. “We realized we were in murder mystery territory, so we added mayhem to the mix.”

And that’s how DART arrived at the season theme: Murder, Mystery & Mayhem! You can purchase a season pass or go to events individually. In addition to the big shows, the 14th annual 10-minute Play Festival and the fourth annual 24-hour theatre project are included in the season pass.

But DART still needed a March opener. That’s when “Hand to God” appeared almost out of nowhere.

If you go

WHAT: “Hand to God,” a comedy by Robert Askins, presented by the Durango Arts Repertory Theatre, directed by Michael McKelvey of Doctuh Mistuh Productions.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, March 15 through March 30; 2 p.m. March 24 and 31.

WHERE: Durango Arts Center, 802 East Second Ave.

TICKETS: Adult $20, $15 students.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit www.durangoarts.org/theatre or call 259-2606.

“Michael (McKelvey, director of the Fort Lewis College Musical Theater Program) directed ‘Reefer’ for us last season,” Lythgoe said. “And he has directed ‘Hand to God’ before. It’s hilarious and fits in perfectly. Michael said he could squeeze it in this year.” McKelvey is currently directing the spring musical at FLC.

When asked, McKelvey fondly remembered his sojourn with “H2G,” shorthand for the play.

“I directed and produced it about six years ago in New Orleans with my company, Doctuh Mistuh Productions,” he said. “I am passionate about new plays, particularly ones that are a little more offbeat and provocative.”

“Hand to God” centers on a family in a small, conservative Texas town. After the death of his father, teenage Jason copes by joining his mother’s Christian Puppet Ministry, but things go awry. His foul-mouthed puppet, Tyrone, takes on a malevolent personality of its own.

Given the adults-only nature of the play, DART quickly loaded up disclaimers: a parental advisory, explicit content and language.

“This show is not for kids,” Lythgoe cheerfully said, “we’re putting out the full Tipper Gore warning.”

“Living half my life in Texas and seeing the role religion plays in many small communities, ‘Hand to God’ really resonates with me,” McKelvey said. “I think the show has a lot to say about familial relationships and Christian morality. It’s also a crazy comedy calling for strong physical actors and of course, puppets.”

Michael McKelvey, Fort Lewis College professor and director of “Hand to God” at the Durango Arts Center. (Courtesy of Judith Reynolds)

The cast includes DART and FLC stalwarts: Connor Sheehan, Jenny Fitts Reynolds, Matt Bodo, Sienna Widen and Oliver Kennedy, who plays two roles, teenage Jason and his evil alter ego Tyrone.

“We’re lucky,” Lythgoe said. “Michael got the puppets he used in the New Orleans production. Tyrone gets roughed-up in the show, so there is actually more than one Tyrone.”

And there’s one more puppet whose identity will remain a mystery here.

Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.