GAY L.A. / THEATER REVIEWS

Theater Reviews: Avenue Q, Theatre in the Dark
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11/19/2012

Avenue Q
The MET Theatre  |  1089 N. Oxford Ave., L.A.  |  Through Feb. 9  |  Tickets $20-34.99  |  domatheatre.com

Before Avenue Q took home 2004 Tonys for best book (Jeff Whitty), score (Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx) and musical, it enjoyed a successful run off-Broadway. When the Broadway production closed in 2009, the show reopened to an off-Broadway house. DOMA Theatre Co.’s splendid current revival, in the 99-seat Met Theatre, demonstrates that this subversively funny show—combining humans and Muppet-like puppet characters—is most at home in an intimate space. Or maybe it’s just that puppet sex packs more of a punch when you’re not watching from the balcony.

Yes, puppet sex, racism, homophobia and internet porn are just some of the topics touched on with clever, comic lyrics as the show tracks Princeton (Christopher Kauffmann), a recent puppet college grad, who lands an apartment on the titular street in the fictionally far reaches of New York’s Alphabet City and searches for his purpose in life. Princeton’s neighbors include fellow puppet Kate Monster (Danielle Judovits), stand-up comic wannabe Brian (Chris Kerrigan) and his Japanese therapist fiancée, Christmas Eve (Janelle Dote), as well as the puppet odd couple, sloppy Nicky (Mark Whitten) and his uptight banker roommate Rod (Kauffmann).  The early number “It Sucks to Be Me” hilariously establishes these twentysomethings’ discontent.

The puppets fall in and out of bed with each other (with an explicitness that would make Cookie Monster blush), the humans get married, Rod gets dragged out of the closet and somehow they all end up realizing we can only live “For Now.”

Some of Avenue Q would be cringe-worthy in the wrong hands, but Richard Israel, one of our most reliable and capable directors, has steered his dynamite cast to be both passionate and precise, accessing the emotion of the show while also nailing the humor. Kauffmann is a marvel in his puppet double-duty, clearly delineating Princeton and Rod and seeming to have a blast in the process. Judovits is similarly impressive as Kate and her slutty rival, Lucy. Whitten is tirelessly funny as the laid-back Nicky and the voice of creepy Trekkie Monster. While Dote misses some of Christmas Eve’s comic potential, she raises the roof with “The More You Ruv Someone.”

Staci Walters’ set design perfectly captures the shabby Sesame Street look while imaginatively filling the Met space and incorporating the show’s projections. Musical director Chris Raymond deftly leads his skilled onstage band, and David Crawford’s sound design amplifies the evening without losing a word.

If you’ve never traveled to Avenue Q before, Israel’s high-octane production is a terrific introduction. And if you caught the show at the Ahmanson five years ago, some of the novelty will be lost, but encountering the characters and events up close makes for a richer theatrical experience. —Christopher Cappiello

Theatre in the Dark
Odyssey Theatre  |  2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd, West L.A.   |  Through Dec. 16  |  Tickets are $25-30  |  odysseytheatre.com

Taking the notion of old-time radio shows and giving it a modern twist, Odyssey Theatre’s Theatre in the Dark (and upcoming More Dark) is theater… in the dark. For real. Like, pitch black darkness. The world premiere of a concept that has drawn raves in London, Theatre in the Dark is comprised of a series of 12-15 short pieces that are written by a number of different playwrights, including original pieces and previously published work. Because of this, the inventive evening is a cornucopia of styles and themes; some are scary, others are humorous, while even more mix the two.
   
When the night begins, we are told that the people behind the scenes are watching the audience on infrared monitors (so no funny business!) and if there is an emergency, you should wave your program and someone will come get you. Other than that, you are told to sit back and immerse yourself entirely in the sounds and stories you will hear—but not see. Most of the time. Here and there the lights come up a bit for a surprise or two, but for the most part, you really can’t see a dang thing.
   
It takes a bit to get used to the utter darkness. For me, being claustrophobic, I was a little taken aback at knowing I had no control over what I could or couldn’t see. But once the stories began, it was easy to let yourself go.
   
The sound design is especially clever, and in the spookier passages, it’s pretty creepy. Some of the stories were more straightforward, while others were head- scratchers. I would say about two-thirds of the stories were successful, with one-third feeling like they either didn’t go anywhere, or their point was lost in translation. One play about a man moving a plethora of objects into a new apartment ended abruptly and seemingly without much of a point. The ones that worked especially well were one bit about a dinner party with a surprise ending, a monologue about going to Whole Foods where the audience got some tasty treats and a meditation about an ant colony. Less successful were a story about a man on a train that had a confusing ending, and one about a guy being forced to say the same word over and over.

With a second evening called More Dark on the horizon, this could evolve into an exclusive original theater experience where every story leaves a chill or a laugh on your lips. Sticking with the frightening, humorous or more direct might be the best way to go when audiences aren’t used to being immersed in darkness. There is a temptation to fall asleep, and without anything to focus on, sometimes the mind drifts if the narrative isn’t as compelling. That might just be a sign of the times in a world where we need constant visual stimulation. Despite that, this new concept feels charmingly old-fashioned and certainly is a fresh way to spend an evening. Credits for the night are varied and include six directors, 12 actors and 13 writers—some alive and some not so much. —Kevin P. Taft


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