Puppetry of the politically incorrect
Black Box Theatre1075 West Capitol Ave.
West Sacramento, CA 95691
Runaway Stage Productions gets frisky and risky with this raunchy—and inordinately funny and offensive—musical comedy. A talented cast, the bulk of them first-timers with the company, runs riot with the innuendo, sex jokes and politically incorrect humor in this grown-up version of Sesame Street.
Princeton, a recent college graduate, comes to New York City in hopes of finding his “purpose,” only to discover that his ideas about what life would be like after college were overly optimistic. He rents an apartment in a building on Avenue Q, where Gary Coleman (Helen Ventura) is the building’s super, and residents are represented by a mix of people and people-operated puppets. Brian (Scott Minor) and his live-in, Christmas Eve (Eimi Taormina) portray the people, while the nonpeople characters in the production are operated and voiced by actors who are visible to the audience.
Scott Bolt (in the dual roles of Princeton and closeted investment banker Rod) leads the cast, with Amanda Goldrick (as the virtuous Kate Monster and loose Lucy) and Andy Hyun (as Nikky and Trekkie Monster). All are excellent at differentiating characters as they switch puppets and personalities. Hyun is especially fine performing “If You Were Gay” and (with Ventura) “Schadenfreude.”
But two songs, taken together, present the show’s big problem: While preaching tolerance, acceptance and avoidance of stereotyping (“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist”), it takes too much joy in making fun of the Asian character Christmas Eve (“The More You Ruv Someone”).
A case of “do as I say, not as …”?
In a home away from Runaway Stage’s usual home in the 24th Street Theatre, director Bob Baxter makes wise use of the Black Box Theatre. The seating arrangement—the audience sits on three sides—puts the puppets and puppeteers into the open space. The show also features suspended TV screens used for instructional videos, a superior sound system and excellent musical accompaniment provided by a five-piece band led by Deann Golz—all of which make this production of the 2004 Tony-winning musical something truly special.