With “Hand to God,” Actor’s Theatre Grand Rapids will tackle arguably the greatest pain imaginable with a strange blend of dark humor and serious emotions.
The show, created by Robert Askins, focuses on 16-year-old Jason, who just lost his father.
Jason and his mother cope with the loss in some pretty different ways. For example, Jason’s mother starts a puppet ministry in the basement of a church and gets Jason to join her. Pretty soon, Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, seems to have a mind of its own.
“Tyrone is not the best influence on Jason,” said Aaron Eding, who plays Pastor Grey in the show. “He encourages Jason to do bad things and also starts to interject himself into conversations. He's pretty crass, rude character. People aren’t sure if the puppet really is possessed or if this is Jason letting out his grief and frustrations in a different sort of way.”
Eding said he relates to the show in a very personal way, as he lost his father about a year ago. His mother also passed away when he was in eighth grade.
“It’s really interesting to see how that emotion can cause you to do things that you ordinarily wouldn’t,” Eding said. “I became a different person for a while.”
During and after Eding’s mother’s battle with cancer, his anger went to a new level. It wasn’t until he was confronted by a friend that he realized how much the pain of his loss had affected him.
Now, in his role as Pastor Greg, Eding has the chance to play that same role of the friend to Jason. Eding said it’s important to have those people in your life to help you out during the grieving process.
When Eding lost his father, he had the Actors’ Theatre show “Grace” to distract him and the cast to support him.
“Life was just so hectic, I had so many things that I had to do, there was hardly time for grieving,” Eding said. “I think it’s important to have those people around you who love you.”
Eding encourages people in the grieving process to not isolate themselves, but choose the “healthy outlet of another person.”
Eding hopes those in the audience for “Hand to God” learn more about how grief affects people in different ways.
“It’s a show that hopefully will get audience members to think about the role that grief plays in somebody’s life, because each of the characters is missing something and grieving that void in their life,” Eding said. “It winds up being a very messy sort of show, but in the way of emotion.”
Director Michelle Urbane said the show demonstrates how we can easily get trapped in our own grief.
“We have to figure out a way to reconcile that within ourselves and be able to show our vulnerability and be honest with ourselves and those around us,” Urbane said. “But there is humor there, and I think that’s so true to life.”
Urbane said some people have read the script and said it’s “out there.”
“I think the audience walks away going, ‘Wow, that was a rollercoaster of emotions,’” Urbane said, adding that sometimes grieving people try to pin blame on anything and everyone around them. “It’s ok to admit we need help and we can lean on our loved ones. That’s totally ok.”