Not your grandparents’ night at the theater

Not your grandparents’ night at the theater

By Jordan Wright (Photo/Keith Waters)

The presentation of “Avenue Q” is another successful step in The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s march into the 21st century.

It’s the latest in a series of productions that a few years ago would have seemed, well, unseemly to the theatre’s faithful supporters. My, how times have changed!

No longer content with a steady diet of British farce, show tunes and murder mysteries, the theatre has branched out this year touching upon complex religious themes in the sensitive and brilliantly crafted “Cantorial;” embracing racy topics and a splash of nudity in the hilarious “The Full Monty;” and now dishing out X-rated humor with the uproarious musical “Avenue Q.”

It’s taken some adjusting from the old guard (overheard at the show: “If they say a bad word, I told him I’d cover his ears.”). Even the director’s notes encourage playgoers to loosen up: “Let political correctness and sexual and social propriety take a backseat.” But all theater-lovers know these venues must attract newer, younger audiences, and in this day and age, swear words and sex talk is everyday TV fare.

“Avenue Q” picks up where “Sesame Street” left off. It centers on the generations of kids who grew up with the furry muppets and kooky TV characters that cheered them on, mollified their fears and taught them the alphabet.

That audience has become a vast pool of young adults entering the workforce and struggling to realize their dreams. The actors, who are quite visible to the audience and mimic the puppets’ emotions, manipulate 12 furry creatures in a set-to-music guide to the galaxy filled with lessons on love, sex and the Internet.

Everything takes place on Avenue Q, where Princeton (Sean Garcia) is new to the neighborhood. He’s just graduated from college, but his life has no purpose — “What Do You Do with a B.A. in English,” he wonders in song.

Kate Monster (Kristina Hopkins) is the girl next door, an aspiring teacher who becomes the object of Princeton’s affection. Unfortunately, he thinks love is not fulfilling enough in his self-absorbed world of job searches and grownup responsibilities.

Christmas Eve (Stephanie Gaia Chu) is the neighborhood’s offbeat psychotherapist, who doesn’t care if she’s perceived as Chinese or Korean (she’s Japanese) but won’t abide by the term Oriental. Her significant other is Brian, an aspiring standup comedian who’s unemployed.

Nicky (Matt Liptak) and Rod (Garcia) are roommates. Rod, who’s still in the closet, hopes to convince everyone otherwise with the song, “My Girlfriend Who Lives in Canada.”

And then there are the cuddly, cute Bad Idea Bears (Charlene Sloan and Liptak), who try to undermine everyone’s better judgment by sobbing uncontrollably when their devilish advice is not taken.

Gary Coleman (Aerika Saxe) is the street-smart, black superintendent who balances out the yuppies’ dilemmas and real-life issues with the tune “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”

But they all agree on one thing — including Trekkie (Liptak), the kindhearted but scary monster — in “The Internet is for Porn.” “He a pervert,” Christmas Eve suggests of Trekkie, but even he is no match for Lucy the Slut (Claire O’Brien), whose Mae West allure has Princeton in her thrall.

In a show where puppets rule, the actors’ expressions — as they mirror the speaking parts of their fuzzy avatars — are crucial. Each performer must adopt their puppet’s personality and dialogue, physically and verbally.

To say that this troupe excels with their puppet personas is an understatement. It also is a tribute to director Frank D. Shutts II’s superb casting as well as puppet master Kristopher Kauff and puppet wrangler Katherine Dilaber, who taught eight neophytes the art of puppeteering.