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Puppets for Grownups...

By Marsden Epworth, The Lakeville Journal


Celebrating puppet carnality, toying with racism, exulting in schadenfreude, airing numbers of nasty and witless notions, and exploding with theatrical style and daring, "Avenue Q" at TheatreWorks New Milford is a pleasure. A big pleasure.

With puppets. And a few people, too.

What it's about, however, is not nearly as interesting as how it's accomplished.

Princeton, a college grad (and puppet brought to life in every way by Mike L'Altrella), with a degree in English and orange skin and black curly hair, is searching for things like a place to live, a job, a purpose in life and ends up on Avenue Q in a distressed outer borough of New York City.

This is home to all sorts of Sesame Street-like characters such as Kate Monster (made alive by Patricia McCarthy), a kindergarten teacher who yearns to open a school for furry monsters; Trekkie Monster (a growling critter reminiscent of Cookie Monster manipulated by Jamison Daniels), with an unsettling fascination with online pornography; and Lucy Slut (manipulated by Carey Van Hollen), a character who spends considerable time with Princeton demonstrating the smutty and delightful realms of a pro.

Some of the characters are human, such as Brian (Glenn R. Couture), who wants to be a TV comic and constructs jokes but is shaky on figuring the punch lines, and his wife, Christmas Eve (Bo Mi Yin), a bald stereotype of an Asian women, made exacting and imperious.

It's tricky, of course, making fun of things like racism and homophobia, but Jeff Whitty, who wrote the book, and Robert Lopez, who wrote the music with Jeff Marx, carry it all off with cheery aplomb.

First produced in 2003, "Avenue Q" is set in a bad economy, and Princeton is down-sized before his first day at work. Kate Monster loses her job after the hilarious Bad Idea Bears introduce her to Long Island Iced Tea (which an online recipe describes as a mix of tequila, vodka, rum, triple sec and a little Pepsi to make it look like its name), thus making her late for work and unemployed.

Also, there's Rod and Nicky, roommates in a time when coming out was a bit trickier than today.

And there's Gary Coleman (Jasmin Love Barbosa), now a tenement superintendent, dusting off the ashes of fizzled fame. (Evidently the real Gary Coleman threatened to sue but didn't.)

But what we really care about here is not the plot, which is a kind of smack at feel-good kiddie fare, but how the actors, intense and riveting, become one with the puppets.

It's magic. Really. And thrilling.

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