Spine: Is ‘Avenue Q’ Just What the Doctor Ordered? Constellation Theatre’s Marvelous Production

Let me be absolutely clear. I loved Constellation Theatre Company’s production of Avenue Q, which opened last night to a packed, laughing audience. Fast paced, precisely choreographed and executed, with deliciously varied voices and personalities, and who doesn’t love the Muppets and Sesame Street: it’s not Bert and Ernie up there, but Bert and Ernie should be (and maybe are) getting the royalties.

Christmas Eve (Justine Icy Moral) and Kate Monster (Katy Karkuff). Photo by Stan Barouh.
Christmas Eve (Justine Icy Moral) and Kate Monster (Katy Karkuff). Photo by Stan Barouh.

I went into see the show, when I was feeling, to use Donald Trump’s phrase, “low energy.” Frankly, I was depressed.

The world is on fire: the Middle East in crisis, citizens shooting cops, cops shooting citizens, citizens shooting each other, shooting children who are also shooting each other; hell, even dogs are shooting hunters (it’s true, a dog shot his hunter-master in the foot). When the dogs start shooting each other, then we’ll know we’re in trouble.

Then, there are all the other “problems” swamping America and the world, from the burning of black churches to looming budget deficits and bankruptcies, to horrendous Central American and Mexican gang murders to millions of refugees flooding into Europe, to Black Lives Matter and to a looming American Oligarchy.

And then in theatreland there is “The Count,” that collaborative study between the Lilly Awards and the Dramatist Guild investigating gender and race biases in American play production.

So I went into Avenue Q worried that I wouldn’t like the show because it would “try” to make me feel “happy”, and right now I really hate “happy” (under normal circumstance I hate “happy” [I’ve even written about my hatred of “happy”], but now I “really” hate it).

Unfortunately, for my curmudgeonly self, the damn show wiped my palette clean, and left no bitter after-taste.

Only “happy.”

A smiling, sickly sweet kind of “happy” as I walked back to my car after the show, thinking about how wonderfully the actors did.

I mean, all of the actors did, not just the two leads Matt Dewberry and Katy Carkuff as Princeton and Kate Monster.

But also Jenna Berk as Bad Idea Bear and, believe it or not, as Nicky’s right hand–sometimes her sheer dancing enthusiasm as a puppet mistress for that right hand put a smile on my face.

Nicky’s left hand, operated by Alex Alferov, also deserves applause, even though it was his voice that captured my ear.

And speaking of voices. Vaughn Ryan Midder, who animated the closeted Rod, stood out as the most delightful. In a show about having fun he had a barrel full.

Or Emily Zickler and her fabulous portrayal of Lucy, the singer seductress and heir to Ms. Piggy. I saw Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s Famous Puppet Death Scenes, performed last year at Woolly, and Lucy’s death scene, animated by Zickler’s scintillatingly beeping heart monitor, deserves a spot on that wall of fame.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that other Bad Idea Bear, given life by Christian Montgomery, or the three non-puppet characters, Justine “Icy” Moral as Christmas Eve, Eben K. Logan as Gary Coleman, and Mikey Cafarelli as Brian. Each brought grins and chuckles to many an audience member’s face.

So yes, I laughed at these wonderful Sesame Street puppet takeoffs, even though the real Sesame Street gang has been bought by HBO, which mean that poor kids won’t see them until six months later.

Trekkie Monster (Christian Montgomery), Katie Monster Katy Carkuff. (Vaughn Ryan Midder is the main person operating Trekkie, but he is behind the puppet here). Photo by Stan Barouh.
Trekkie Monster (Christian Montgomery), Katie Monster Katy Carkuff. (Vaughn Ryan Midder is the main person operating Trekkie, but he is behind the puppet here). Photo by Stan Barouh.

And yes I laughed at “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” even though “Enough of Us Are a Lot More Racist” to make life a living hell for a good deal of the planet.

And yes I laughed at “I Wish I Could Go Back to College,” even though lots of people do (it’s called Graduate School), and even though a lot of kids would love to go to college the first time but it’s so damn expensive (they can’t afford it [or their parents can’t afford it]); but to make matters even worse, many many many college kids wish they hadn’t paid (or borrowed) for college the first time because student-college-debt is drowning a whole generation in a sea of worthless knowledge.

And yes I laughed at “The Internet Is For Porn” and “You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love),” even though as the two puppets, Princeton and Kate Monster, engage in their raucously crude bout of live onstage sex, porn sexual addiction is increasingly on the rise.

And yes I laughed at “For Now,” Avenue Q‘s grand finale, which asserts, like the Medieval Wheel of Fortune, the temporal nature of all things distressing (or joyful), even though the examples cited in the song were decidedly “privileged” in nature, and for most people might not even be cited as problems.

I laughed, and for a short wonderful two hours stepped into Avenue Q, not a place that time forgot, but a place that time never knew was there, because it does not exist in New York City or anywhere, except in the fantastical labyrinths of the theatre.

For there, the real world need not exist or even be represented.

For there, wit and banality, wisdom and triviality, and puppet-people reign supreme.

12112486_10153175904515950_6636001495961111542_nAvenue Q plays through November 22, 2015 at Constellation Theatre Company, performing at Source – 1835 14th Street NW, in Washington, D.C. For tickets, call the Box Office at (202) 204-7741, or purchase tickets online   

‘Avenue Q’ reviewed by Michael Poandl on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Magic Time! ‘Avenue Q’ at Constellation Theatre Company by John Stoltenberg on DCMetroTheaterArts.

Spine: Is ‘Avenue Q’ Just What the Doctor Ordered? Constellation Theatre’s Marvelous Production by Robert Michael Oliver on DCMetroTheaterArts.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., considers himself a Creativist. He has been involved in education and the performing arts in the Washington area since the 1980s. He, along with his wife, Elizabeth Bruce, and Jill Navarre, co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in 1983. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theater and performance studies from the University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theater over the five years he worked as a reviewer than he saw in the previous 30. He now co-directs the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project. He has his first book of poetry, The Dark Diary: in 27 refracted moments, due for publication by Finishing Line Press later this year.


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