Dark comedy explores “bad impulses” with help of puppets

Puppets and religion can be a harrowing combination. Especially when the puppet is Tyrone.

The dark comedy “Hand to God,” which opens at Short North Stage this weekend, finds a church puppet show terrorized when one of the puppets takes over the left hand of its operator, the teenaged Jason, resulting in a foul-mouthed and rowdy force for … bad.

“Something in Jason created Tyrone, but it's definitely an external thing. The internal becomes external and then internal again,” said Danny Turek, who plays Jason. “Tyrone wants Jason to toughen up, to be bad, to be stronger.”

Turek said the play challenges the facade of the church as a happy place.

“At its heart there is a lot of pain. The story spends a lot of time breaking down those false facades,” he said. “But the script doesn't pass judgement either way. It allows that this is what's happening, letting out those bad impulses.”

The dual-role aspect of Jason/Tyrone keeps “Hand to God” moving and mostly madcap, Turek said, while allowing for some moments of shock and subtlety.

“I have these long scenes where I talk with myself as different characters,” he said. “I had to start getting into the idea that it was two distinct people, trying to be in two heads at once and switching back and forth.”