By Eduardo Castaeeda
In the depths of New York City is a so-so neighborhood with nude puppets, uncensored language and crude humor. Luckily, this neighborhood made a stop at Cal Poly Pomona and is ready to play.
CPP’s Department of Theatre and New Dance premiered “Avenue Q” on Friday. “Avenue Q” is the first musical production in three years.
The production is about a neighborhood on Avenue Q, where 20-something humans and puppets are learning how to survive in a post-college world while searching for their purpose.
The department’s portrayal of “Avenue Q” was fearless with its perfectly timed jokes, wonderful student-designed stage and props, pop culture references, impressive puppetry skills and audience interaction. The production also featured the original puppets from the Broadway show.
Making a brave and wise decision, Bernardo Solano, the Department of Theatre and New Dance chair, director of the production and a professor of theatre and education, said he wanted to produce the original version over the school version to serve the story justice.
“Part of what makes this show special is its willingness to not pull back,” said Solano. “It uses the language that people use for the kinds of conversations that young people have; it’s uncensored. If we’re going to be accurate and speak to people in a way that is recognizable, we should do the original. The educational version is so watered down. It doesn’t have [the] same bite.”
The production tackles several controversial issues like homophobia, sex, racism, homelessness and pornography in a light-hearted manner with hilarious songs. The production introduces several realistic characters that are sure to hit home.
In “If You Were Gay,” we meet Rod, a closeted homosexual whose mission is to hide his identity. We also meet Nicky, Rod’s roommate. Nicky plays a large role in Rod’s identity crisis because he tells the rest of the neighborhood that he thinks Rod is gay.
Representing the recent college graduates is Princeton, the protagonist of the story and the new guy in the neighborhood that is looking for a job and life purpose with his bachelor’s degree in English. While Princeton is searching for his destiny, he experiences getting fired from his job, dating and breaking up.
More diverse characters are introduced in the guilty pleasure jingle “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Kate Monster, one of the protagonists of the production, is a monster puppet who dreams of creating a monster school for other monsters like her. Christmas Eve is an Asian American female with a strong dialect that gets married to Brian, an easy-going unemployed guy. Gary Coleman also makes an appearance in the production as the superintendent of the neighborhood that thrives from others’ miseries.
Other characters that play unique roles in the production are Lucy, the harlot of the story that performs some of the greatest vocals and hair flips of the show; Trekkie Monster, a monster puppet obsessed with porn; The Bad Idea Bears, a pair of bears that are always getting the other characters into trouble; and Mrs. Thistletwat, a cranky kindergarten teacher and Kate Monster’s boss.
Several actors portrayed more than one character throughout the show without combining the characters. The actors transitioned smoothly between different characters. Samantha Girod, a fourth-year theatre student, played Mrs. Thistletwat and the Bad Idea Girl Bear. She said the characters were very different, and she did not worry about the characters merging with each other. Her focus was on making the puppets real.
“I’ve never worked with puppets before,” said Girod. “Once you get the hang of the puppetry, it’s really fun because you can go places with these characters that you otherwise wouldn’t as a human. You have to play them in a way that makes them look realistic. Our face reflects what the puppet is feeling and our movements correspond with what the puppet is doing.”
Jonathan Agurcia, a second-year theatre student, played the Bad Idea Boy Bear and ensemble while portraying several second hands of other puppets. He said the biggest challenge of the production was mastering the puppetry.
“Working with the puppets was difficult because I thought it was going to be easy to move my hands,” said Agurcia. “It was frustrating because I thought I was getting the details down, but then the angles of my hands would be different or I would forget to make the puppet look like it’s breathing.”
The production was a successful effort for Solano and the department with several laughs throughout the show that earned applause. The story’s offensive jokes and strong language managed to generate an inspiring message in the end that encouraged people to follow their dreams and overcome any obstacles on that path.
Zoran Liu-Moy / The Poly Post
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