If the real world is sometimes hard to understand, a visit to "Avenue Q" may solve your problems. The Tony Award-winning, zany musical comedy — think of "Sesame Street" for 20-somethings — opens Thursday, May 16, in Southern Oregon University's Center Stage Theatre.
With book by Coos Bay native Jeff Whitty and music and lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, "Avenue Q" provides some adult solutions to the dilemmas of romance, sex, gender equality, race and social responsibility through cheerful — if decidedly themed for mature audiences — musical vignettes presented by three actors and 11 human-size, Muppet-esque puppets. Theater faculty member Chris Sackett directs.
"In its irreverence, it has a deep reverence for the human condition," Sackett says. "It contains a poignant statement about what it takes to survive in the modern world."
What: "Avenue Q"
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, May 16 through June 1
Where: Center Stage Theatre on the Southern Oregon University campus, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland
Tickets: $21, $18 for seniors and $6 for students
Call: 541-552-6348 or see www.sou.edu/performingarts
Performances are set for 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, May 16-18, May 23-25, and May 30-June 1. Matinees are set for 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, May 25-26 and June 1-2. Tickets cost $21, $18 for seniors and $6 for students. Call 541-552-6348 or see www.sou.edu/performingarts to purchase tickets.
The puppeteers are visible on stage as they vocalize and manipulate their charges. The puppets have been constructed by students in SOU's costume shop.
"The inclusion of the puppet aspect has broadened the scope of the show for both the actors and the technical team," Sackett says. "It's a complex show that is supposed to look simple."
Sackett, along with members of SOU's design faculty and student costume designer Hannah Stellmacher, attended a weeklong course in puppetry. Students in the costume shop have been creating mock-ups of the puppet characters since last fall, which evolved into rehearsal puppets, then performance puppets.
The cast includes Beth Boulay, Lucas Caldwell, Austin Comfort, Kameron Fort, Karen Fox, Valerie Huntington, Briawna Jackson, Ben Larson, Laurel Livezey, Kurt Langmeyer, Erin O'Connor, Corey Porter, Emily Serdahl, Kate Spence and Jeremy Vik. Set design is by Spencer Richardson, lighting is by Kate McFarland and sound is by Cullen Wright.
"The set is a world that is believable and real. The audience can feel like a part of it. But at the same time, it's not held to the practical logic or mechanisms of the real world," Richardson says. "After all, this is a world where puppets and humans live side by side."
Reed Bentley, Connie Gardner, Drew Giambrone, Gordon Greenley, Jennifer Schloming and Nic Temple make up the orchestra, and SOU faculty Vicki Purslow is musical director.
Jim Giancarlo, SOU faculty and artistic director of the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, directs the choreography.
"It's a whole new world choreographing potty-mouthed puppets who have no legs and, mostly, only one working arm," he says. "The focus of movement has to be on the puppets, not on the operators. The actors working the puppets have to learn how to act through those puppets."
Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at email@example.com.