at the INB Center through Valentine's Day
You know how psychologists
sometimes encourage troubled little kids to talk to dolls? Externalizing
feelings like that — talking to a pretend-friend — helps the tykes reveal and
examine anxieties that they otherwise might not be willing to discuss.
what it’s like watching Avenue Q
puppets do the heavy lifting for us. Are you a lot more likely to discuss the
weather and the latest sports scores than you are to earnestly engage another
human being on issues that really matter, like sex and race and the meaning of
Well, join the club. We could all use a little puppet therapy.
feels fortunate to have witnessed a musical as amusing, edgy and yes, inspiring,
Brent Michael DiRoma has expressive voices in both halves of his
significant gay-straight equivalence doubling as both Princeton and Rod.
while I was initially disappointed that the Thursday night audience was getting
the understudy Kate Monster, Ashley Eileen Bucknam and her talented doubling
demonstrated that conventional Kate & provocative Lucy live, at least a
little bit, inside many women.
From the soundtrack alone, you wouldn’t know
how extensively this show uses TV screens to spoof the simple-minded teaching
methods of Sesame
, then twists them to give them a wicked adult kick.
mix, however, was off: some voices were shrieky-squealy; sometimes the five-man
band simply overwhelmed the lyrics with too much volume.
The doubling of
puppets could be confusing -- three actors have no puppets, some have two, some
have more than two, some throw their voices over to puppets they’re not holding;
some puppets have two operators, one of whom never speaks or sings. Couldn’t the
creators have divided the roles more generously? (But as I said, the doubling of
Rod (gay) and Princeton (straight) does highlight how romantic-longing is a
human emotion, not exclusive either to my kind of sexuality or
Face-to-face puppet squabbles are funny. (In general, the
puppet-choreography was remarkably expressive and well done.)
Because of the
puppet confusions, personally, I never quite resolved the look at the
puppets/look at the humans dilemma.
Bobble-head chirpiness and dance moves,
when shared by both humans and puppets, are funny -- it mocks the over-serious
side of ourselves and unlocks the playfulness. That’s what Avenue Q
does: It gives
us permission, during a two-hour recess for overworked adults, to pause and be
creative and accepting again. It allows us to look at ourselves from the
perspective of the kid inside, who always wanted better things — back when we
first were dreaming our dreams.
And I feel embarrassed about having
bought into WestCoast Entertainment’s cautions about not over-stressing the
(Hey, cussing is nothing to be proud of, and we should all
limit it, especially in public -- which I DO find offensive — but studies have
shown that a little cussing is physiologically a good thing, and we should stop
being in denial about how we all do it from time to time. Sort of like this
show’s themes about admitting that racism, porn, sexual desire and schadenfreude
are not exactly utterly foreign to the vast majority of us.)
But it’s about
time to shed the poor-little-provincial-Spokane attitude. Yes, we’re in the red
half of a blue state, and I did see two walkouts tonight, and the mega-church
members probably aren’t flocking to a gay-porn-puppet show. But judging from the
ample size and laughter of Thursday night’s opening-night crowd, there’s a
critical mass of folks here now who aren’t fazed by those New York City liberal
, far from being childish or obscene, is enlivening, enspiriting, and
very human and forgiving.
DiRoma’s voice was particularly expressive on
“Purpose,” his longing-song. In general, Bobo was pleasantly surprised by how
often this show, often marketed as being full of potty-mouth puppets and
oh-my-God-somebody-might-be-offended, instead has plenty of quiet, touching,
serious, wise, well-integrated moments. And DiRoma made his “I want” song
The pair of Bad Idea Bears (Kerri Brackin and Jason Heymann) were
hilarious: They were externalizations of our guilty impulses. (So is Trekkie
Monster.) The show lets us see how easy it turn one Long Island Iced Tea into
four, how easy it is to fall into bed with the wrong/right person.
serious stuff in a silly manner is cathartic, too. (Monsters are discriminated
against as “people of fur.”) The song about racism devolves into a soft-shoe
routine: silly but serious, but silly, all at once.
The cast was vocally
The best test of your threshold for what’s funny or not in this show
might be Kate’s crabby old bitch of a boss at the kindergarten where she
teaches, one Miss Lavinia Thistletwat, who insists on being called by her last
name, because otherwise the kids wouldn’t respect her.
As for the "Porn"
song, it’s hilarious when Trekkie self-censors (covering his mouth instead of
chiming in for the 15th time with “for porn!”) — especially when juxtaposed with
the line soon after: ‘Hey, guys, just grab your dick and double-click ... for
A cheap joke that appeals to my own sensibilities: Rod, as a
Republican and an investment banker, is good for ... absolutely nothing. And
therefore he might as well just stay in the closet.
Soon after, Princeton
and Kate are having loud, screaming missionary-position sex! (Can they do that
onstage?) And then you realize, they’re just puppets.
from the actors to the bunches of fuzz and latex that they’re manipulating can
In the context of all the puppet play, Gary Coleman stroking the broom
obscenely got a bit too crude, too literal. But Gary and then Trekkie burying
their faces lasciviously deep, deep into the bosoms of Lucy the Slut --that was
Bucknam was touching on “a fine, fine line between love and a
waste of time.” Again, lots of serious, thoughtful emotion here, given all the
more impact by the fact that moments before, you were laughing at
And you’ll never think the same way again, ever, about
the relationship between a slang word for orgasm and the word “commitment.”
(Brilliant. Summarized in just two words the whole battle of the sexes.)