If you like puppets that sweetly sing the ABCs and teach valuable life lessons, then you might want to stay away from “Hand to God.”
However, if foul-mouthed puppets that declare themselves the devil and have simulated sex onstage are more your style, then mark your calendar for the Unicorn Theatre’s new production, running Sept. 7 through Oct. 2.
Always a theater company willing to push boundaries and present the newest works, the Unicorn is one of the first regional theaters to produce Robert Askins’ 2015 Tony Award nominee for best play. It’s dark as can be — a Christian ministry puppet takes on a life of its own and leads its creator into a world of sin, violence and sex in small-town Texas.
In fact, one of the first scenes that actor Bob Linebarger (who plays teen Jason and the aforementioned puppet, Tyrone) rehearsed with Mariem Diaz (who plays his romantic interest, Jessica) was the one in which the two teens talk innocuously in Jason’s basement — while the pair’s puppets have incredibly vocal sex.
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“That was so fun,” Linebarger said with a laugh.
Director Cynthia Levin, who’s also the producing artistic director at the Unicorn, said the show is a minefield of emotions. Her words: “It’s a supernatural, f---ed-up piece of theater.”
So, of course, she’s thrilled to direct it.
“It’s like a filthy, funny puppet show for adults only,” she said. “All I do is try to find plays that are new and different and funny and clever and something I’ve never done before. … This goes about as far as I’ve ever seen a comedy with puppets could go. There’s no stone left unturned, no subject that’s off-limits.”
In “Hand to God,” nothing is sacred. It “blasphemes everything we care about,” Levin said.
The Unicorn kicked off its last season with a puppet onstage as well, in “The Oldest Boy,” a drama about a couple in America whose 3-year-old son (created by local puppeteer Paul Mesner) is deemed to be the reincarnation of a Buddhist lama. But that was a sweet parable. “Hand to God” takes its cues from raunchier puppet theater, like Broadway’s “Avenue Q.”
Tyrone and Jason represent two sides of the teenager’s personality. Jason is an introverted, well-meaning 17-year-old struggling with the death of his father. Tyrone takes advantage of Jason’s inner turmoil, exposing his troubled teenage thoughts to the world — and to Jason.
It’s a new challenge for Linebarger, who’s learning the art of puppetry from Mesner. Embodying two characters at the same time requires a good deal of practice, Levin said, but also an acceptance of just letting things play out.
Linebarger, who describes himself as a perfectionist, said he’s trying to embrace that mindset.
“When Cynthia cast me I was like, ‘Yes,’ and then five minutes later, I was like, ‘Oh, I have some work to do,’ ” he said. “I knew the task at hand and, of course, I love the challenge. I want that puppet to come alive.
“It’s difficult, but if we pull it off, it will be worth it.”
▪ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” Sept. 7-25 by Kansas City Actors Theatre. The Pulitzer-Prize-winning Tennessee Williams work (“Stella!”) tells of one family rocked by domestic abuse, ruined reputations and crisis.
▪ “Evita,” Sept. 9-Oct. 2 at Kansas City Repertory Theatre. Follow the life of Argentinian icon Eva Perón from her humble beginnings to her rise as the first lady in this Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
▪ “Have You Met Miss Jones?” Sept. 22-Nov. 27 at New Theatre Restaurant. Academy Award winner and “Partridge Family” star Shirley Jones joins her actor son Patrick Cassidy for an evening of stories, memories and songs from her career. This world premiere was written by another son, one-time teen idol Shaun Cassidy.
▪ “Deathtrap,” Oct. 20-Nov. 5 at Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre. The comedy-thriller play-about-a-play follows a Broadway playwright who discovers a student’s potential hit script and develops a devious plan to take credit for the work himself.
▪ “Nine,” Nov. 3-20 by Spinning Tree Theatre. Made into a movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, the musical tells of a celebrated filmmaker facing a midlife crisis and growing pressure from the women in his life.
▪ “Rachel,” Nov. 10-20 by KC Melting Pot Theatre. The company presents the world premiere of a play about a young black woman who discovers devastating racism through the lives of her young children and the truth about her family.
Unicorn Theatre. UnicornTheatre.org
“Hand to God,” Sept. 7-Oct. 2
“The Way We Get By,” Oct. 19-Nov. 13
Musical Theater Heritage. MTHKC.com
“A Night on the Town,” Sept. 8-10
“Songs of the Great War,” Oct. 6-16
“Cabaret,” Nov. 3-25
Metropolitan Ensemble Theatre. METKC.org
“Picasso at the Lapine Agile,” Sept. 8-24
“Deathtrap,” Oct. 20-Nov. 5
Kansas City Repertory Theatre. KCRep.org
“Evita,” Sept. 9-Oct. 2, Spencer Theatre
“The Invisible Hand,” Oct. 14-Nov. 13, Copaken Stage.
“A Christmas Carol,” Nov. 18-Dec. 24, Spencer Theatre
“The Rat Pack Is Back,” Sept. 9-11
“Girls Only: The Secret Comedy of Women,” Oct. 11-23, Cohen Community Stagehouse
“Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, Live!” Nov. 3-5, Cohen Community Stagehouse
“Sister’s Christmas Catechism,” Nov. 26-Dec. 18, Cohen Community Stagehouse
Jewish Community Center White Theatre. TheJKC.org
“Becoming Dr. Ruth,” Sept. 10-11
“Sunset Boulevard,” Nov. 5-20
Chestnut Fine Arts Center. ChestnutFineArts.com
“I Do, I Do,” Sept. 15-Oct. 23
“Patty, Maxene and LaVerne,” Nov. 3-Dec. 18
Barn Players. TheBarPlayers.org
“Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Sept. 16-Oct. 2
“Nice Work If You Can Get It,” Nov. 4-20
“The Nine Who Dared: Courage in Little Rock,” Sept. 20-Oct. 21
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical,” Nov. 8-Dec. 31
Quality Hill Playhouse. QualityHillPlayhouse.com
“Barry, Bette and Broadway,” Sept. 30-Oct. 30
“Christmas in Song,” Nov. 25-Dec. 24
JCCC Performing Arts Series, Yardley Hall. JCCC.edu/TheSeries
“Basetrack Live,” Oct. 9
“Rock the Presidents,” Nov. 16
Theatre for Young America. TYA.org
“Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type,” Oct. 15-Nov. 4, Extreme Screen Theatre
“Three Wise Cats: A Christmas Musical,” Nov. 22-Dec. 24, H&R Block City Stage
“A Streetcar Named Desire,” Kansas City Actors Theatre, Sept. 7-25, H&R Block City Stage Theater. KCActors.org
“Crimes of the Heart,” Sept. 8-18, City Theatre of Independence. CityTheatreOfIndependence.org
“Die Nacht Der Nachte,” Late Night Theatre, Sept. 9, Folly. FollyTheater.org
“Driving Miss Daisy,” Sept. 9-Oct. 2, Paradise Playhouse Dinner Theatre and Events Center. ParadisePlayhouse.org
Shakespeare in the Parking Lot X: “Twelfth Night,” Sept. 10-18, Alcott Arts Center. AlcottArtsCenter.org
“Have You Met Miss Jones?” Sept. 22-Nov. 27, New Theatre Restaurant. NewTheatre.com
“Annapurna,” Sept. 30-Oct. 23, The Living Room. TheLivingRoomKC.com
“Evil Dead: The Musical,” Egads Theatre, Oct. 13-31, H&R Block City Stage. EvilDeadKC.com
“One Man, Two Guvnors,” Oct. 14-30, Olathe Civic Theatre Association. OlatheTheatre.org
“Nine,” Spinning Tree Theatre, Nov. 3-20, Living Room. SpinningTreeTheatre.com
“Rachel,” Melting Pot Theatre, Nov. 10-19, Just Off Broadway Theatre. KCMeltingPot.com
“A Christmas Stalking,” Mystery Train Theatre, Nov. 11-Dec. 31. Crown Plaza Hotel. KCMysteryTrain.com
“The Illusionists,” Nov. 15-20, Music Hall. TheaterLeague.com/KansasCity
“Ben Franklin and His Kite,” Folly Theater Kids Series, Nov. 16, Folly. FollyTheater.org
Calendar compiled by Dan Kelly, email@example.com