Community Theatre Review: ‘Hand to God’ at Ephrata Performing Arts Center- Is this really community theatre?

I had the pleasure of attending Ephrata Performing Arts Center’s production of Hand to God this weekend and I couldn’t have been more entertained. I was not familiar with the play whatsoever except for the notoriety it received on Broadway when an audience member climbed up on stage and tried to plug his phone into an outlet on the set.

“After the death of his father, meek Jason finds an outlet for his anxiety at the Christian Puppet Ministry, in the devoutly religious, relatively quiet small town of Cypress, Texas. Jason’s complicated relationships with the town pastor, the school bully, the girl next door, and—most especially—his mother are thrown into upheaval when Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, takes on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. Hand to God explores the startlingly fragile nature of faith, morality, and the ties that bind us.” – from Dramatist’s Play Service)

I have to say, I have never seen a more shocking, vulgar, outlandish and gory play in my life and I absolutely loved it. This show is definitely not for the faint of heart nor children. Curse words pepper the script like seasoning in a soup and there are moments of extreme blood, puppet intercourse and some mild nudity.

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Ephrata’s production of Hand to God was beautifully cast, led by the extremely talented Sean Deffley. I was amazed at how nuanced Deffley’s portrayal of Tyrone, the demon puppet, was and the dichotomy he created between Tyrone and his character, Jason. I truly felt like I was watching two different people. Tim Riggs and Kristie Ohlinger were very funny and developed as the two “adult” characters, Pastor Greg and Margery. I have to give credit to Ohlinger for throwing caution to the wind and really putting her all into her near S&M sex scene with Brian Viera as Timothy. Viera and Maggie Shevlin as Jessica were great as the other two students in the puppet class, anchoring the antics created by Tyrone quiet nicely.  The LGBTQ+ Blogger in me would be remiss not to tell you that Brian Viera has to be one of the most attractive actors I’ve ever seen on stage and had me on the edge of my seat when he stripped down to his underwear!

Dave Koch created a very clever and realistic set that made us feel like we were really in a church basement and the lighting design by Mike Wiltraut was spot on. I only wished the “lightning” during the thunderstorm near the end was a little more prevalent.

I had never seen a show at EPAC until this and I was utterly blown away that it’s considered community theatre. It has to be one of the nicest, most polished community theatre’s I’ve ever been in and I love that they have their own space with programs that extend beyond their mainstage season. My only complaint about the venue was how extremely hot the theatre was, but the artistic director, Edward R. Fernandez, mentioned before the show that they were raising money for a new A/C system, so here’s hoping that happens sooner than later. EPAC’s next production is West Side Story, running 7/19 through 8/4. Tickets can be purchased at Ephrata Performing Arts Center

 

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