Addison — Hand to God by Robert Askins, the “darkly delightful” (The New York Times), blasphemous Broadway hit that has been taking the country by storm, makes its regional debut at WaterTower Theatre this week. Texas native Robert Askins thrusts the audience into a surreal church basement, where a young man’s foul-mouthed hand puppet—who may be possessed by the devil—wreaks havoc and exposes hypocrisy with ruthlessness and side-splitting humor. This season-closing production is an immersive experience directed by Joanie Schultz. The production also stars Shannon McGrann as Margery, Debbie Ruegsegger as Jessica, Garret Storms as Timothy, and Thomas Ward as Pastor Greg
Shane Strawbridge met up with Parker Gray, who plays Jason, and Tyrone the Puppet, who plays himself, for a conversation about their relationship and the play. We've included a progression of photos that follow the journey of this interview. To see more of Tyrone's dastardly deeds and a clever video series, check out WaterTower's Facebook page.
TheaterJones: First off, how did you two meet?
Tyrone: I’ve always known Parker. Since birth. He just didn’t know it yet.
Parker: I met Tyrone at auditions for the show. I wasn’t really fond of who he was. I mean, he’s great and did his job well, but he’s a real piece of shit. The scenes were always about him, I could never get a word in. He’s always giving me notes, even though he’s only been in this one play his entire life. He is the hired talent though, so I didn’t want to upset my acting partner. He also smokes like a chimney. He always blows the smoke in my face. I guess it’s his intimidation tactics. To weed out the shitty actors.
Do you mean “weed” out the actors as if it wasn’t just tobacco?
Parker: I’m not going to speculate on that, legally or illegally. What Tyrone does on his own time doesn’t concern me. He’s Equity and I’m not, so…
Tyrone: I mean, I like a little bit of the devil’s cabbage, the devil’s lettuce. It helps me unwind. I’ve had a hard life. You’ve got someone’s hand inside of you, 24 hours a day, sometimes they’re sweaty, sometimes they’re too big. If you’ve ever been fisted, you would know. If that happened to you, wouldn’t you smoke a little, just a little to take the edge off? These actors nowadays just want to complain. I’m trying to get in touch with my spiritual side. Just because their character doesn’t smoke, they think they shouldn’t. Method actors…
Parker, how do you feel about the way Tyrone has been treating you and the rest of the cast online?
Parker: I try to have a good head about it. A good attitude, but after he put braces on me in that one photo… I think he’s just doing it for attention. He’s a really self-conscious actor. He feels the need to make fun of us. He probably feels threatened in the room. I would, too if I was a seven-inch puppet with troll hair.
Tyrone: Seven inches? Clearly, he’s never done anything to make me grow bigger than seven inches. Have you seen Parker’s hair? Sorry, Screech. You’re gonna have to try harder if you want more than seven inches.
Tyrone, would you like to defend yourself about the allegations that you are putting out social media posts insulting your castmates?
Tyrone: I plead the fifth.
Parker: Do you know what that means? Are you just saying that because you saw it on TV?
Tyrone: Should I say the sixth? Whatever amendment I need, use that one. #NoCollusion It was the Russians. They hacked WaterTower Theatre’s accounts. It was really easy, I mean, THEY said it was really easy. I mean, if you saw these actors in real life, wouldn’t you do the same.? They are so easy to make fun of, I mean, that’s what Putin told me. What I mean to say is that I didn’t hack it, not that I did hack it. I thought that would be clear, but I guess there needs to be an explanation. No puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet. Parker’s the puppet. He does whatever Joanie [WaterTower Theatre Artistic Director Schultz] tells him to do. Is that the kind of actor you want running this play? I’m the real star, he’s the puppet, and I make him better. Just be glad you don’t have to see his right hand for two-and-a-half hours. It’s disgusting and crusty.
OK…why should people see this play?
Parker: The play deals with an issue that everyone can relate to on a non-crazy “there’s a kid with a puppet” level: grief, and the ability to express feelings, having someone to talk to, to have a support system. Not having those outlets, and what kind of person that creates, and the situations that creates is at the heart of this play. Director Joanie Schultz spoke a lot about taking care of our outcasts.
Tyrone: No, people should see it because I’m in it. These other people are only here because there happens to be roles that need to be filled. I’m a job creator.
Did you ever consider doing it as a one man show?
Tyrone: I tried, but Rob didn’t really go for it. All these directors I’ve worked with, I try to explain to them that I think it would be great to just do it with me. Let’s face it: all the other actors in the world aren’t as good as me. They don’t have my flexibility, or my hair. I’m the everyman of actors. Theatre needs me. You should see it because you get to spend a lot of time with me. You get to, pardon my French, f*ck some sh*t up. Doesn’t that sound fun? I think that’s fun.
Tyrone? Tyrone, what are you doing to Parker?
Tyrone: Just look the other way, I’m not strangling him, you don’t need to see this. Just go to sleep, Parker…go to sleep…and now he’s out. Now we talk. You and me. Man to puppet.
Tyrone: Listen, this kid, he…he thinks because he got an education, because he works in theatre, that he knows everything, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t know how to act. He doesn’t know how to live. I know how to live. I needed to get him out of the way. And he smells. You can’t trust a guy with small crusty hands. Let’s get down to business here. Who do you work for?
I work for TheaterJones.
Tyrone: TheaterJones? Ooh, you guys just turned non-profit right? I’ve been thinking about running my own non-profit. I think I’d be really good at writing reviews; doing interviews. I can type fast and vigorously. You know what? I think Mark Lowry has had his moment in the sun. Hey, hey. Look at this.
Why are you swinging that pocket watch?
Tyrone: Shane, Shane, just look at the watch. Swinging back and forth, you’re getting sleepy. Your eyes are droopy. And you’re asleep. Good. Now, open your email. Send this email to Mark. Quote. Your time is done, you are no longer the CEO of TheaterJones. I am now the CEP. Chief Executive Puppet.
If you are reading this. I, Tyrone, am now the editor and chief of TheaterJones. You should come see my show. The show that only I am in. Parker is dead, but don’t worry about that. No one mourns the mediocre. And as for the rest of the cast: Shannon and Thomas and Debbie and Garret? They’ll go down soon enough, and then I think I’ll also become the new Artistic Director of WaterTower Theatre. Say your goodbyes, Joanie.
» Hand to God by Robert Askins previews Aug. 3-5, opens Aug. 6 and runs through Aug. 26, 2018 at WaterTower Theatre in Addison, Texas. Click here for tickets and more info.
» The preview performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5 is a pay-what-you-can beneifit for the Plano-based Journey of Hope Grief Support Center.