Review by Danny Gaisin
To find Avenue ‘Q’ on a map of Manhattan, look for the intersection of Lymph Road and Axilla Blvd. In other words, the ‘armpit’ of NYC! It’s the downtrodden locale for the 2002 Lopez/Marx/Whitty collaboration of non-PC dialogue & lyrics; music and puppetry…satire, but with a message.
HAMMER Entertainment’s take on this off-Broadway—gone mainstream hit does not try to re-invent the wheel, but rather amuse and charm the audience, all the while subtly educating. The plot deals with three separate relationships;
a newly-graduated liberal Arts student & a substitute-teacher monstress; a mixed-race engaged couple, and two roommates; one of whom is a latent homosexual. Add to this mix, the late child-star Gary Coleman as the super; a porn-loving hedonist monster; a couple of bad-conscience teddy bears and a slutty overdeveloped entertainer and you have the personas of the ‘hood’.
Director Jason Dick has recruited a totally professional team of thespians to undertake the quadruple challenge of dancing; singing, acting and puppetry. As an observer, this writer faced a constant obstacle of whether to watch the puppets or concentrate on their manipulators. The actors obviously project far greater facial expressions so we see double interpretations of the clever dialogues, plus the messages therein. Those concepts, whether subtle or obvious acknowledge that we all have imperfections, biases, and prejudices. One of the more blatant is the ‘We’re all a little racist’ number that always touches this writer personally. I’m guilty of occasionally “disriking Olientals” myself! Who hasn’t suffered moments of inferiority or the ‘It sucks to be me’ syndrome? As for schadenfreude; can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t feel a bit of a boost from hearing about a serious nosedive by Atwood, Trudeau, Mulroney or Bieber!
There are seven performers portraying about 15 characters, including three that act sans puppets. Nick Kulnies is Brian; engaged to Esther Huh’s ‘Christmas Eve’; and Heidi Lange as Gary Coleman. All three are convincing and give full measure to their character portrayals. Huh’s accent may be a little difficult to grasp but her message comes through…”don’t mess with the rady!” She’s some pistol and Kulnies reactions are totally plausible.
Now for the puppeteers: – in more than a few personalities, Franny McCabe-Bennett is a comedic delight. Her ‘Mrs. Thistletwat’ has the most outrageous Brit accent and her influencing bear could cause the most uptight to blow a better nature. Ryan Miller is her Teddy’s co-conspirator as well as the scene-stealing porno-fan “Trekkie”. The hero, ‘Princeton’’s manipulator is performed and sung by a terrific Phil Pompeo. We first heard him as ‘Marvin’ in Sheridan’s “Fallsetto” and even then thought he had that ‘something’ that’s theatrically special. Voice range has changed and his face still mirrors his desired or directed imagery.
We were definitely enamored by ‘Kate Monster’. The empathetic treatment bestowed by Kristi Boulton both vocally and in dialogue is a scenery-chewing success. The body language displayed by both underscores the desires, affection and disappointments that will be familiar to all audience members. Her walk (sashay) as she exits – stage rear with another alter-ego ‘Lucy the Slut’ is pure giggle.
We’ve visited AVENUE “Q” a number of times …including one that was staged the same week that Gary Coleman passed away. All were, and are, a little different…all were a treat. This iteration will be at the Citadel until April 27th, and certainly worth promenading along this ridiculous NY neighborhood. Call 905-981-7345 for tickets.
Bring a few coins for the fund-raising scene!