Dominion Stage Avenue QBy Bob Ashby • Jan 13th, 2013 • Category: Reviews
Dominion Stage Info, Website
Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, VA
Through January 26th
2:20 with one intermission
$18 Online/$20 At the Door
Reviewed January 11th, 2013
The opening night audience for Dominion Stage’s production of Avenue Q (music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Mark, book by Jeff Whitty), in which local theater people were heavily represented, loved every minute. And what’s not to love? The multiple Tony Award-winning, Sesame Street-inspired musical about a diverse, and diverting, mélange of characters trying to find themselves in a downscale Brooklyn neighborhood has cute and catchy songs, clever and sometimes raunchy lines, simple and appealing characters, gentle messages that never challenge the audience’s assumptions, and the most energetic (perhaps the only) example of puppet sex in recent theatrical memory.
The trademark of Avenue Q is, of course, its use of Jim Henson-like puppets to play all but three of the show’s characters. An actor — two in some cases — manipulates each puppet, voicing the character and paralleling the puppet’s physicality and emotional state. An impressive feature of the Dominion Stage production is the precision with which each actor is unified with his or her puppet, producing what amounts to a joint characterization. There is no attempt to conceal the black-clad actors, but their work with the puppets readily allows the audience to buy into the notion that a character is, for example, a cute, fuzzy monster, not simply the actor moving him and delivering his lines and lyrics.
There are no great theater songs in Avenue Q, and the songs do not demand great voices. That said, the music, and the production’s performances, move the story, fill in the characterizations, and provide an abundance of fun along the way. The tone of the songs ranges from satirical (like “The Internet is for Porn,” led by Nathan Tatro’s rough but ultimately philanthropic Trekkie Monster), earnest (like “Purpose,” sung by protagonist Princeton, played by Devon Ross), to sentimental (like “There’s a Fine, Fine Line,” a breakup lament by Katie Monster (Heather Friedman)). Several dynamic ensemble numbers (like “It Sucks to Be Me,” in which several characters attempt to one-up each other’s tales of woe; “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” a spoof on political correctness; and “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want,” led by Jonathan Faircloth as Gary Coleman); spice up the proceedings. Among the solo pieces, Amy Baska’s rendition of Lucy the Slut’s vamp song, “Special,” was the strongest, both vocally and in terms of movement. The duet “Schadenfreude,” sung by Gary Coleman and Nicky (Christopher Rios), is the most entertaining exegesis of that concept ever, accompanied by well-conceived graphics on the set’s video screen.
The level of performance by all members of the cast is consistently high, though at times Evie Corovesis’ Christmas Eve came across as less a spoof on stereotypes of the Japanese than as simply screechy. Special mention should be made of the Bad Idea Bears (Katie Chmura and Tom Flatt). These malevolent cousins of Thing One and Thing Two do their best to persuade other characters of the virtues of excessive drinking, sex under the influence (come to think of it, how do puppets that drunk manage to have such active sex?), and even suicide. But they’re so cheerful and cute about it, acting like adorable devils on both shoulders of Princeton, Katie, and others.
The technical side of the production is outstanding. The complex lighting design makes good use of color, not only for variety’s sake but to highlight the mood of scenes (e.g., red in a nightclub scene, blue for Katie’s “There’s a Fine, Fine Line). Cues were crisp. The lighting is marred only by occasional shadows on actors in a few scenes. The sound design, including the actors’ microphones, also worked effectively, the system at Gunston Middle School’s Theater One appearing to provide somewhat greater directionality than sound systems at many community theater venues.
The multi-level set, convincingly representing a down-at-the-heels urban neighborhood (think Sesame Street gone to seed), included units that smoothly wheeled out to represent different characters’ apartments. Scene changes were quick and efficient. The set includes a large video screen, which displays words and images from time to time, coordinated with actions and lines on stage. The timing of the video elements was flawless. The source of most of the puppets was not clear from the program, but they were beautifully realized. Given that most of the actors wore basic black, Avenue Q is not a big costume show, but the wedding outfits for Eve and Brian were delightfully garish.
While its time, place, and tone are quite different, there is something in Avenue Q reminiscent of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series. In each case, a mixed lot of mostly young characters congregate in a close-knit residential space that permits them to interact with and support each other as they try to know themselves and form connections with their peers. They live in a setting where their daily routines bring them into casual contact with one another as they walk around the neighborhood. Jane Jacobs, the great urbanist who lived in and loved Greenwich Village before it became expensively gentrified, would heartily approve. The kind of community that people create on Avenue Q or Barbary Lane is one that structurally cannot come into being in the suburbs, and a yearning for the possibility of such a community gives both stories a good deal of their emotional force.
Avenue Q has been a dream of mine since I first heard a recording of the original production. It is a show that resonates in my heart because lo’, I too have the illustrious BA in English. When I finished college I truly thought I knew it all…ha! I have been Princeton, I have been Nicky, I have been Kate, I have been Brian – it’s an odd map of my own life and a testament to just how well this show is written and assembled. You will find yourself on Avenue Q; somewhere in this oddball cast of characters, there you are – living, breathing, loving, fighting, all on display in flesh, felt and fur.
I would remiss if I didn’t mention the television show that makes Avenue Q resonate so profoundly – Sesame Street continues to impact lives with the magical combination of fantasy and reality, puppet and human; it allows us to look at our, oh so serious, lives and laugh. Avenue Q brings this playful take to an adult audience with new problems to deal with. How am I supposed to live? Why does life suck sometimes? Why don’t I have a significant other? Why is congress so terrible?
When times are touch, the world seems in chaos, natural and unnatural disasters are occurring around us every day; when we need help we turn to our community. It is on our own avenues that we find support, love, friendship, sex, money, food, family. I hope you find yourself in our production and that you will enjoy the ride as much as we have. Don’t stress, relax let life roll off your backs, and welcome to Avenue Q!
Photos by Jarret Baker
- Ensemble: Helen Bard-Sobola
- Lucy the Slut: Amy Baska
- Bad Idea Bear: Katy Chmura
- Gary Coleman: Jonathan Faircloth
- Bad Idea Bear: Tom Flatt
- Kate Monster: Heather Friedman
- Rod: Patrick Graham
- Christmas Eve: Evie Korovesis
- Ensemble: Lindsey McClenathan
- Ensemble: Don-Michael Mendoza
- Brian: Sam Nystrom
- Nicky: Christopher Rios
- Princeton: Devon Ross
- Ensemble: Jennifer Rubio
- Ensemble: Mark Shaffstall
- Trekkie Monster: Nathan Tatro
The Production Team
- Director: Christopher Guy Thorn
- Music Director: John-Michael D’Haviland
- Choreographer: Amanda Cane
- Puppet Master: Marianne Meyers
- Producer And Stage Manager: David M. Moretti
- Assistant Director: Jeremy Austin
- Scenic Design: Jared Davis
- Sound Design: Kevin DeMine
- Sound Effects Board Operator: David Gonzales
- Lighting Design/Master Carpenter: Hector Lorenzini
- Light Board Operator: Darryl Watanabe
- Properties Design: Helen Bard-Sobola
- Set Dressing/Costume Design: Ellen Erickson
- Onstage Deck Manager: Rachel Wolkowitz
- Assistant Audio/Multimedia Engineer: Drew Moberley
- Dance Captain: Shawn g. Byers
- Set Construction and Painting Crew: Alex Bryce, Michael deBlois, Jared Davis, Peter Finkle, Brian Frankl, William Kolodrubetz, Darryl Watanabe, Rachel Wolkowitz
- Load In/Tech Assistance: Joe Aquilina, Alex Bryce, Shawn g. Byers, John-Michael d’Haviland, Brian Frankl, Richard Isaacs, Phil Natalini, Matthew Randall, JuanFelipe Rincon, Rachel Wolkowitz
- Hair/MakeUp Consultant: Larissa Norris
- Costume Specialty: Mikey Torres
- Purpose Puppets: Patrick M. Doneghy
- Auditions: Dominion Stage Board
- Audition Pianist: Bobby McCoy
- Marketing/Social Media/Blog Team: Dominion Stage Board
- Marketing, Press & Archival Photography: Jarret Baker
- Video Specialty: Patrick M. Doneghy, Larissa Norris
Disclaimer: Dominion Stage provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
This article can be linked to as: http://washingtondc.showbizradio.com/goto/8979.
Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.