I remember when I was a boy of 11, my parents were in a cabaret and they performed songs from numerous musicals to varying degrees of success. It was around this time they introduced a tune entitled “The Internet is for Porn” from an offensive play with puppets called “Avenue Q.”
Immediately, the shocking title had me intrigued, and I am surprised it took me nine years to finally see the production. When it was announced that the show was coming to the University of Rhode Island, I jumped at the opportunity to review the story of a college graduate/puppet named Princeton who looks to start life on Avenue Q in New York City. Along the way, he meets a colorful cast of puppet, monster and human characters, and becomes determined to find his purpose in the world.
Before the play began, I noticed the eye-catching set design. The building where the story took place captured a genuine, New York City feel and had the appearance of an impoverished apartment block done to near perfection. The laundry lines stretching from window to window, the crosswalk, the trash under the staircase and close proximity of the rooms gave a sense of realism to the wildly absurd plot and script.
Perhaps the best feature of the performance was the actors’ ability to blend in entirely with the puppets for which they were providing the voice. Despite being on stage and directly involved with the show, it seemed as though they were not even there. Their voices and actions synced up well with the movements, especially those of Diego Guevara (Princeton) and Erika Rethorn, who voiced and controlled Kate Monster, the main character’s love interest.
The ensemble crew provided shocking and blue collar humor, but it was not overly offensive. Brian and Christmas Eve, two lovers living in Avenue Q played respectively by Louis Perrotta and Katherine Riley, provided toilet humor at times, while also relying on Eve’s exaggerated Asian accent to draw in laughs as well. Rod (Reilly Hayes) and Nicky (Ben Church), blatant stand-ins for Sesame Street’s Bert and Ernie who live together, introduced the concept of homosexual overtones to the show.
The comedic tactics employed by these characters, along with the monster Trekkie’s (John Thomas Cunha) pornography addiction and the heightened sexuality of “Lucy the Slut” (Anya Fox), should have come across as lewd and disgusting. However, the jokes confronted genuine issues that may be taboo in society and that people are willing to keep hidden from the public eye grounded the ludicrous nature of the play. Tunes like “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” and “The Internet is for Porn” brought this idea to the forefront.
The music and lyrics certainly had the Sesame Street feel of a sing-along, but of course were not intended in any way for children. “Schadenfreude” had the typical feel of an educational song, as Avenue Q foreman Gary Coleman and Nicky sang to the audience about what exactly it is. In tremendous contrast with the positive tone of many children’s shows, though, the term about which they sing really means “the enjoyment of watching others suffer.” The darkness and adult humor of the lyrics contrasts the upbeat tone of the song in nearly every number and they worked off each other very well.
Despite the overwhelmingly obscene content, some songs took a serious turn and brought a human element to the puppets. Rethorn’s rendition of “There’s A Fine, Fine Line” was an excellent, short romantic ballad to close out the first act, while Guevara’s “Purpose” was a tune poignant for many college students searching for what they want to do with their lives.
“Avenue Q” is back at the Fine Arts Center this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. I highly recommend it, but do not bring the kids. After all, puppet sex should only be for adult eyes only.