Last week I attended three plays about living life as a member of a minority group.
“The Chosen” at Barrington Stage Company’s main stage is about the issues of being Jewish in Brooklyn during the 1940s. At BSC’s smaller stage “Southern Comfort” tells about the outcast lives of a transgendered community. “Johnny Baseball” at the Nikos Stage of Williamstown Theatre Festival is about segregation and race relations in baseball from 1918-1948.
On Friday night I attended the musical “Avenue Q” at Adirondack Theatre Festival in Glens Falls and experienced (to a much lesser degree) what it is to feel like a member of a minority.
I was in a full house of people laughing, hooting and clapping at material I felt was shallow and crude and lacking in humor and sophistication. This is a Tony-Award winning musical that ran on Broadway for 2,534 performances from 2003-2009 and is still running Off-Broadway.
Matters were made worse because having seen the show on Broadway, as well as the national tour, I recognized that in terms of talent and execution the excellent ATF production is their equal.
Yet, because I disliked and was annoyed with the material I felt an outsider - alone and alienated. That said, for a critic it is not an unusual feeling.
“Avenue Q” is a play that is generally described as a naughty version of “Sesame Street.” It is about recent college graduates who discover their education has not prepared them for the work force or for life itself. In the course of the play they come to terms with racism, homosexuality, envy and even the reality of pornography. Most of all they discover a purpose in life.
The themes sound genuine but the language is crude and the situations are boarder line risqué (puppets having sex). The expletives and naked puppets are not offensive in themselves; it’s the low college-frat level of the shallow humor that is disappointing. At least it is to me, though the audience roared with every f-bomb.
As you might have gathered, the central characters are puppets operated by performers who are in plain sight. There is a tendency to pay attention to the puppeteers more than to the puppets, but don’t worry, as the actors are signaling the same emotions as their characters and are never distracting.
The lead puppeteers at ATF are great. They are always engaging and in the moment to the point they often provide voices for two characters at the same time.
It’s special fun to see Noah Zachary who plays Princeton and Rod show such a fantastic comic delivery as he was the deeply troubled Henry in last year’s ATF production of “Next to Normal.”
Stacia Newcomb is a delight as Kate Monster and a bitch as Lucy the Slut. Newcomb is both vulnerable and witty and has a great singing voice. Rob Morrison’s superior comic delivery brings a nice edge to both Nicky and Trekkie Monster. He and Heather Brorsen work very well together as the evil bears who tempt the central characters. Shinnerrie Jackson does well playing Gary Coleman in a tiring continuing joke.
The only weaknesses in the cast are Stephen DiBlasi and Joanne Javien as they fail to make the dislikeable slacker couple likeable.
“Avenue Q” is directed by Jennifer Barnhart an original cast member of “Avenue Q.” She knows the show and understands what works. One day I hope she explains to me why it works.
“Avenue Q” at Adirondack Theatre Festival, 207 Glen Street, Glens Falls. 8 p.m. nightly through Saturday. 874-0800, www.atfestival.org
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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