'Hand to God' at Florida Studio Theatre

Florida Studio Theatre (FST) opens its 2019 Stage III Series with “Hand to God,” by Robert Askins, a dark comedy exploring the shockingly fragile nature of faith, morality and the ties that bind us.

Called “A darkly delightful play” by The New York Times, “Hand to God” is a ribald and irreverent comedy that dramatizes the fine line between good and evil.

An Obie Award winner and five-time Tony Award nominee, including Best New Play, “Hand to God” was the most produced play in the 2016-17 theatrical season.

“What this play does so well is to juggle humor — admittedly it’s jaw-droppingly raunchy and profane humor, but that’s the fun — with big themes that we wouldn’t otherwise be willing or able to engage with in an intimate way,” said FST Associate Artist Jason Cannon, who is directing Hand to God.

In the church basement of a little Texas town, something evil is afoot. Or, well, at hand.

Shy, inquisitive teenager Jason finally finds an outlet for his burgeoning creativity at his church’s Christian Puppet Ministry after his father dies. But soon his hand puppet, Tyrone, goes rogue and takes on his own shocking and dangerous personality.

As Tyrone’s influence over Jason steadily grows, Jason’s relationships with his secret crush, the school bully and his widowed mother are thrown into jeopardy.

The play mines the psychology of grief and examines the moral ambiguity that permeates everyday life.

Askins said, “The thing that you think [is good] can destroy the world, and the thing that you think is bad can save it. The play does attempt to show what I think most of America finds a problematic subculture — one that is striving for goodness.”

FST’s production of “Hand to God” features Harrison Bryan as Jason/Tyrone; Drew Hirshfield as Pastor Greg; Jessica Mosher as Jessica, Jason’s crush; Brenny Rabine as Jason’s mother, Margery; and Tom Patterson as Timmy, Jason’s disruptive classmate.

Bryan has performed regionally and Off-Broadway in “A Patron of the Arts” and MCC’s FreshPlay Festival. Hirshfield has performed at regional theatres around the country, including Huntington Theatre Company and Alley Theatre.

Mosher is a Canadian actress based in New York City who has performed in “Fun Home” and “Crimes of the Heart.” Rabine starred in productions of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “God of Carnage.” Patterson, who has also been seen in FST’s productions of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and won a Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Actor in a Play in the Broadway production of Studio Theatre’s “Constellations.”

“Hand to God” runs through Feb. 8 in FST’s Bowne’s Lab Theatre and is part of a three-show subscription package, including the high-octane examination of judgment and redemption “Cherry Docs” and the Off-Broadway hit “Buyer & Cellar.”

Purchase subscriptions for all three Stage III productions for $49 at 941-366-9000 or FloridaStudioTheatre.org.

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