Sunday, November 11, 2012

DOMA Theatre Company Moves in to AVENUE Q

DOMA Theatre Company has struck gold with its final production of the 2012 season, a tightly crafted, well-played Avenue Q directed by one of L.A.’s favorite local theatre directors, Richard Israel. Honesty is the touchstone for Israel’s production and the key element that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. Not only does he maximize the funny in every shockingly comedic scene but he gives the simplest heartfelt revelations room to breathe as well making this intimate production a winner in every regard.    

There wouldn’t be an Avenue Q without its inspiration, the children’s TV series, Sesame Street, home to a very famous group of muppets set in a happy, fictional neighborhood in New York City. Creators Robert Lopez, Jeff Marx and Jeff Whitty satirize everything about the wholesome show by adding an abundance of adult humor to the everyday comings and goings of the puppets, monsters, and humans that live way out on the Avenue. Full of bright, bouncy songs, and lyrics that make you do a double take, they prove you can get away with almost anything…as long as it’s said by a puppet.

Nothing is off limits in Avenue Q. “It Sucks to be Me,” “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” “I’m Not Wearing Underwear Today,” and “You Can Be As Loud As the Hell You Want (When You’re Makin’ Love) may catch first-timers off guard, sending them into gales of laughter, but even those who know what’s coming can’t resist the belly laughs Avenue Q provides. It’s all about surprise and this show does it better than any of them.

When recent college grad Princeton (Chris Kauffmann) moves into the neighborhood he meets an unusual group of characters who help him discover his purpose in life. Among them are unemployed comedian Brian (Chris Kerrigan), his overbearing fiancée Christmas Eve (Janelle Dote), and former child actor Gary Coleman (Benai Boyd), the building super. Puppet residents include kindergarten teacher Kate Monster (Danielle Judovits) who dreams of running a school for monsters, “odd couple” roommates Nicky (Mark Whitten) and uptight closeted Rod (Kauffmann), a loudmouth Internet porn-surfing monster named Trekkie (Whitten), and a sexy neighborhood lounge singer named Lucy the Slut (Judovits).

The cast, many of whom voice multiple puppets, is terrific, with two exceptional standouts.
Kauffmann plays both Princeton and Rod with astounding facility, syncing his movements and facial expressions to his puppets so thoroughly that you’d swear they were one and the same. He is charmingly quirky as Rod (a takeoff on Sesame Street’s Bert), the uptight closeted Republican, and incredibly likeable as Princeton, the accidental hero who comes to Kate’s rescue.

Whitten is a firecracker of a performer who channels endless amounts of energy and unique vocal inflections into his characters whether it’s as Nicky (a slacker version of Ernie), as an adorably bad “Bad Idea Bear,” or as Trekkie Monster, (Cookie Monster gone wrong). Trekkie can’t help but steal the show and his wide-eyed puppeteer Whitten will steal your heart.

Dote’s tirades as Japanese therapist Christmas Eve burst hysterically out of nowhere in contrast to Kerrigan’s low-key manner as schlubby, nice guy Brian, and when Boyd breaks into a full blown smile as Gary Coleman and sings "Schadenfreude," the irony couldn’t be funnier. Judovits ends Act I beautifully with a poignant self-reflective “There’s a Fine, Fine Line” full of sweet purity.

Credit for the musical polish goes to Chris Raymond, musical director. The upbeat songs sound like they would be right at home on Sesame Street if it wasn’t for the adult lyrics and Raymond has created a terrific balance between the actors and the band. Diction is clear, vocal harmonies blend well, and the sound is particularly good for this production, credited to sound designer & mixer David Crawford

DOMA’s Avenue Q also features the original Broadway puppets and projections, an excellent recreation of the original set design by Staci Walters, and costumes by Haleh Risdana that capture the flavor of the Broadway production, with a few added personal touches. I especially enjoyed the fact that Christmas Eve’s tunic changed color with each scene.

With its unique blend of humor and heart, complete with puppet sex, inappropriate language, Internet porn, partial puppet nudity, and a final message that reminds us that "Everything in life is only for now," I guarantee you'll leave with a smile on your face.

Through December 16
DOMA Theatre Company at The MET Theatre
1089 N. Oxford Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029
Tickets and Info: 323-802-4990

Pictured above:
1). Libby Letlow, Janelle Dote, Mark Whitten, Benai Boyd (center), Chris Kerrigan, Chris Kauffmann. 

2). Chris Kauffmann (Princeton) and Danielle Judovits (Kate Monster)
3). Danielle Judovits (Kate Monster) and Mark Whitten as Trekkie Monster
Photo credit: Michael Lamont

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