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Avenue Q — where puppets make us face the truth

by Lenise Willis

Barney, Sesame Street, the Teletubbies, the Wiggles — allhave long been teaching children valuable lessons suchas how to share, count or make friends. But what aboutreal-world lessons for adults? For that, there’s Avenue Q, aTony Award-winning Broadway musical that fuses fl esh with felt andbrings both thought-provoking, “realistic” lessons and a little raunchyhumor to the stage.

Avenue Q gives a shout out to any parent, older sibling or babysitter whohas been forced to watch the fantasy worlds in children’s programming. Themusical uses both human and puppet actors to comically put an “adult” twistto kids’ shows and counter the idealistic messages they typically send.

“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “The Internet is For Porn” and “TheMore You ‘Ruv’ Someone (The More You Want To Kill Them)” are all lessonsdiscovered in song on the imaginary and sometimes lewd Avenue Q.Successfully bringing this musical to Winston-Salem is Theatre Alliance,which, under the direction of Jamie Lawson, has sold out all ofits performance dates including an additional four that were added toaccommodate the demand.

The play’s clever musical script combined with Theatre Alliance’sdedicated volunteer actors makes for an infectious performance. Theaudience can’t help but get swept up in the energy of the puppets andactors alike, especially the Bad Idea Bears, whose high-pitched voiceswreak havoc in the lives of the characters. “You should buy some beer!”they exclaim to Princeton, a broke and depressed recent college grad, forwhom they even tie a noose for — just in case.

The puppet-operating actors onstage do not simply melt into the background,but serve as emotion-wielding extensions for their characters. Asthe play continues they even begin to look like their cloth counterparts.Their facial expressions — like that of Gray Smith, who gives an outstandingperformance as Princeton, and Rod, a secretly gay and uptight businessprofessional — validate the puppets’ trials, triumphs and overall emotions.

Jaye Pierce’s vocal variety is certainly noteworthy as she switchesback and forth between the deep sultry song of Lucy Slut and the sweet,girlish ramblings of Kate Monster. Pierce, too, channels her characters’personalities through her expressive face and body language.Natasha Gore proves that roles are not constricted by gender in herperformance as Gary Coleman, the human. Her facial expressions, mannerismsand even her voice make the audience ignore the fact that sheisn’t four feet tall.

And what can be learned from Coleman? People getpleasure out of seeing other’s misery.Of course, it’s not only good acting that transports an audience to anew place. Scenic designer Andrew Lopina both creatively and effi -ciently brings the dirt and slum of New York City’s streets to the stage.A bulky backdrop of a two-story brick wall with apartment windowsand doors leaves only a sliver of stage to act as a narrow, crowded street.

Gray stone, worn doors, exposed piping and small stoops complete theimage of a low-income NYC apartment complex.By simply fl ipping up a set window, the character’s small interiorrooms are revealed to give the idea that the actors and puppets are actingfrom within their apartment.A fl at-screen TV hung high to the side of the stage adds to thechildlike-feel by displaying short cartoon clips that parody children’s programs.

The videos not only illustrate the dialogue’s clever wit and puns,but make the audience feel like they are actually watching an educationalprogram from their TV at home.And fi nally, the small six-man band just offstage pulls the productiontogether, giving it an upbeat, campy and almost sitcom-like background.

Altogether the production is consuming, and choosing live music over arecording adds to the play’s high energy and gives the fi nal tug to pull theaudience completely into the playfully salacious world of Avenue Q —the only place where puppets can have hilariously awkward sex.

wanna go?

Play is for mature audiences only.Theatre Alliance continues topresent Avenue Q on their stageat 1047 Northwest Blvd., WinstonSalem,ThursdayMarch11.Currently all performances havebeen sold out; however, ticketsmay become available due to lastminutecancellations. For moreinformation visit www.wstheatrealliance.org, or call 336.723.7777.Community Theatre of Greensborowill take their crack at Avenue QMarch 16April4 at Broach Theatre,520 S. Elm St. Tickets are $10$30.For tickets or more informationvisit www.ctgso.org, or call336.333.7470.

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