Susan Crocker, Jeff Mangum, Jeff Ketterman, Brian Morris, Shelby Gray, & Jake Minton in Avenue Q. Photo courtesy of Mind’s Eye Theatre Company.
Music & Lyrics by Jeff Marx & Robert Lopez
Book by Jeff Whitty
Directed by Janet Morris
Review by Kate Barry.
Entire contents are copyright © 2017 Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Adulthood can be pretty childish. Wouldn’t it be great to be a kid again? What’s brilliant about Avenue Q is that, though we may have college degrees and full time jobs, all while paying off debts and loans, there are still lessons to learn every day. Mind’s Eye Theater has mounted a cheeky, yet sincere production of the musical puppet show and it’s worth seeing.
Mind’s Eye’s production works best when the cast fully buys into the children show concept a la Electric Company and Sesame Street. The best performances do not rely on the operation of puppets or the reliance of imitation of cherished characters per se but rather the embodiment of characters through the plush figures themselves. Only when the actors let the puppets do the work does the show really get good.
And this show’s most valuable player is Brian Morris in the dual roles of Trekkie Monster and Nicky. According to his program bio, Morris has played both parts three times and it shows. Fully committed to bringing life and originality to his plush characters, Morris flexes his comedic muscle with great magnitude. “If You Were Gay” and “The Internet Is For Porn” were showstoppers for sure. His performances are not imitations of Cookie Monster or Ernie but rather skillful parodies that pay tribute with great attention to detail. Jeff Ketterman’s in-the-closet Republican, Rod, was a brilliant counterpart to Morris’ Nicky. Ketterman brings years of voice acting work to this part and is delight to watch with each of Rod’s wheezes, whines and screams.
As the Bad Idea Bears, Jeff Mangum and Shelby Gray are intensely creepy yet adorable as the peer pressuring duo. Tymika Prince brings irony to a whole new level as Gary Coleman. Prince taps into Coleman’s tragic child star upbringing with a twinge of “here’s what not to do” wisdom. Carrie Cooke Ketterman’s Kate Monster brings a monster-next-door vibe as she pines for the new tenant with songs like “Mixtape” and “There’s A Fine, Fine Line.” Chris Meier as Brian brings great comedic moments as the aging slacker that can’t let go of his stand up comedy dreams. As Princeton, the 22 year-old college graduate who ponders what he can do with a B.A. in English (In my experience, quite a few things – but that’s besides the point.) Jake Minton is a relatable, everyman character as he steps into the real world for the first time, no matter how hard it may be. His performances of “Purpose” and “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” were sweet and tender.
In this production, Christmas Eve, traditionally portrayed by an actor, is transformed into a puppet operated by Susan Crocker. Even though Crocker is an amazing talent and delivered songs like “The More You Ruv Someone” with integrity, I struggled with this aspect of the production. The character speaks with a thick Asian accent, using a dialect written into the script. Although Crocker performs the dialect earnestly, without adding anything that might suggest further stereotype, I wondered if this was an appropriate choice. This show thrives on being offensive with songs about being a little bit racist, Internet pornography, and dirty jokes at every turn, so one could argue that this is in the spirit of the show. Yet, in a time where ‘white-washing’ of Asian characters through Anglo casting is controversial but still common, I just couldn’t shake my unease in the choice to cast a Caucasian actress in a role that caricatures Japanese culture.
Nevertheless, Mind’s Eye Theater Company’s Avenue Q delivers the goods. It’s funny, off-color, even dark at times, and full of puppets being naughty. And considering the state of political affairs on a national and global level, it’s nice to hear a puppet gently remind you that “everything in life is only for now.”
June 15-24, 2017
Go to Kentuckycenter.org for tickets
Mind’s Eye Theater Company
At The Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Kate Barry earned her Bachelors in English with a Theater minor from Bellarmine University in 2008. She has worked with many different companies around town including Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions and you have probably purchased tickets from her at that little performing arts center on Main Street as well. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. Thanks for reading!