Tyrone’s Strings Hold Everyone Down

A review of Triangle productions!' 'Hand to God,' running now through Sept. 30

Hang the cape up, Dracula. Yo, Frankenstein…take a long ass cat nap. Jack the Ripper? As if. There’s a new villain in town and it takes the form a worn-out maroon sock puppet named Tyrone.

Now, if you just read that sentence and thought that I had finally gone around the bend, there’s a method to my madness. Tyrone the sock puppet is the brilliantly twisted alter ego in Hand to God, a dark comedy running through Sept. 30 at Northeast Portland’s triangle productions! .

The play, on the surface, seems simple: a young man named Jason is coping with the death of his father and, to quell his anxiety, he dives headfirst into the world of Christian Puppet Ministry. But Jason is, all at once, being picked on by the school bully, crushing hard on the girl next door, caring for (and being cared for by) his grieving mother, and comforted by the town pastor. The play takes a beautifully complicated turn when his trusty security blanket, a sock puppet named Tyrone, takes on a mind of its own and unleashes holy Hell.

Hand to God is one of those plays that you just have to see to believe. The performances will simultaneously break and warm your heart. As you get to learn Jason’s story, you’ll admire his strength, and the multidimensional performance by Caleb Sohigian playing Jason/Tyrone is worth the ticket price alone.

Sohigian navigates the stormy waters of adolescence, grief, loss, and first love with humor, heart, and swiftness. When Sohigian takes on Tyrone’s persona, it’s some of the funniest stuff in the entire damn show, but it is also cringe-inducing, in the sense that you feel for this young kid, trying to navigate through life. In order to impress his crush, Jessica (played with naiveté and reason by Olivia Weiss), Jason uses Tyrone to help perform the classic Abbott and Costello routine “Who’s on First?”—with disastrous results. Watching it from the audience, I felt so bad for Jason but still related so much to him. We’ve all done crazy things for the people we’ve had crushes on, puppet show routines included.

Horn’s direction and use of the space is marvelous. The set is simple but complex, like the play itself. The classroom Horn has made is so full of detail that a sense of uncomfortable nostalgia sweeps over you. There were many times where I felt like I was back in my old preschool and grimaced, which is an incredible feeling.

Horn is a master of filling the space. Be it a behemoth musical like Heathers, or something massive turned intimate like what he did with the Green Day rock opera American Idiot, Horn makes every experience in the Sanctuary (the lovely name of the NE Sandy theatre triangle productions! calls home) just that: spiritual. His smart use of multimedia adds to the world of the play. A video montage of puppet shows and Christian Puppet Ministry played before the show began, and I was instantly drawn in.

Triangle productions! is a theatre company unafraid of individuality. The stuffiness many theaters have is immediately done away with when you meet Don. Everyone, from audience to actor to musician and technician, is welcomed: bare feet, hugs, and all. It’s also a very brave company.

When the Vanguard sat down with Horn to discuss his company and the show, he said, especially in this day and age, “a lot of people are numb. If we don’t face [our current times] and learn how to deal with it, we won’t learn how to do it.”

Horn said the play teaches us to “face up what you have to face up to.” We see all these characters in the show face up to a demon and finally look in the mirror at what’s facing them, and that’s what makes the show a must-see, especially for us college students.

We can learn something about what really makes us tick and what we use as our security blankets: our Tyrones. We’ve all got Tyrones, and how we learn to face our Tyrones is something a $50,000+ a year education cannot teach us.

This reviewer needs you to run very quickly to triangle productions! and see this show, running through September 30th. For more information on ticket prices, which have not been raised for 28 years (thank you Don), and other information on their season (which includes a musical collaboration with Darcelle, a never-before-seen play by playwright and national treasure Lanford Wilson, and so much more) visit www.trianglepro.org.