June 2nd, 2013

Howard The Duck

Avenue Q - Los Altos Stage Co at Bus Barn Theater

Fessing up: I fell in love with Avenue Q when I heard the Broadway cast CD, and saw the touring company production in SF a couple of years ago and enjoyed it a lot. So local community production in a tiny space which used to be where Los Altos repaired their school buses did not set the bar very high.

In many ways it was better than the touring company. Pacing, timing and harmony in the chorus numbers were better. Having one performer per puppet was better. While both had great sets, it's pretty tough to build a great set in a bus barn. They added a setup of singing boxes which was highly amusing.

In some ways it was not as good. Anthony Chan  playing the lead character, Princeton, couldn't be heard in the back of the theater unless he was all the way downstage. Neither could Warren Wernick, playing "I'm not gay" Nicky. And this is tragic because the  back row is row G. Close enough to throw a pie and hit an actor. The 3-piece band was mostly too loud. And they were out of sight behind the set.

And then there was something which I don't know was better or worse, but was very very different. The touring company was made up of professional puppeteers. This show was made up of theater people with some dance background. In the touring show, I was watching the faces of the puppets, because like good puppeteers (ventriloquists) the face of the puppeteer was always neutral. At Los Altos I had to try very hard to look at the puppets, because the faces of the cast were showing the emotions the characters were feeling, and it made the puppets superfluous.

A little about the characters. Mylissa Malley's Kate Monster was awesome. Great voice applied to her character voice. Fine Fine Line as poignant as it could be.  Tomas Theriot as Rod the flaming Republican was easy to hear and understand and in total denial, as written. David Mister as Trekkie Monster blew me away completely. He had the voice down pat, and did some clever things with the monster puppet/costume. Jen Wheatonfox as one of the Bad Idea Bears has these searchlight eyes which made it impossible for me to concentrate on her puppet.  Mark Sanders is listed as a Bad Idea Bear, but he was also the second puppeteer whenever a puppet needed two operators. 

Non-puppeted characters:

Adam Cotugno as Brian looked too much like a winner to me. Brian ought to look like a 33-year-old couch potato. But other than looks, he did a great job. His other half, Christmas Eve (Kathryn Han) was too tall for the part. She looked way too good in that wedding dress. She also either forgot or made the choice to not convert her L's to R's. Kinda destroyed the When You Ruv Someone song. Other than those two nitpicks, she was a much stronger player than the touring company's.

And finally, Gary Coleman. Avenue Q was written for him. He played it on Broadway, but by the time the touring company was cast he was either too ill or too dead to audition. In the touring company, they substituted a petitely chubby woman of color. Los Altos cast Nicole C. Julien, who is anything but petite. She's a fine actress, but woefully miscast.

I think the show would be better if they rewrote the part to be some more easily mimicked personality. It would only change a couple of lines and one verse of one song. It just needs someone famous who has gone from hero to zero. Maybe that Culkin kid, or Rosie O'donnel.

For all my gripes, this is a must-see-if-you-can-get-tickets show. Small theater = sells out fast.  Performances through June 22. Details here.


Almost Happy

Part of Dragon Theater's play development workshop, Almost Happy had its second reading this afternoon, my first time seeing it. I am surprised it beat out 50 other scripts because the writing is awful, and the plot is contrived. Collapse )

Katie Rose Kreuger plays Naomi, and she has the same little girl high voice IRL as she has on stage.  She is very easy to look at, not as easy to listen to. Sara Luna is Tess, and she does strong, sarcastic activist very well. Rory Strahan-Mauk is about 6'8" tall and beanpole thin with an auburn beard which halos his face. They all seemed to struggle with the script. Toward the end of the show, it was clear that Tess' script was missing a couple of pages or inserts. Having directed a play-in-progress myself, I know how this can happen. But it shouldn't.

 This is basically a 1-act plot stretched into a 2-act play.

There were a few clever lines here and there. "I've been seeing him vaginally" stands out. There were some lame attempts at bringing modern politics to bear (occupy).

I've crossed off next weekend's final reading from my calendar. It needs far more work than the playwright (Jacob Marx Rice) has any idea about, judging from the questions he asked at the feedback session.

I won't say this was 90 minutes of my life I'll never get back, because I was part of a play development process, and one of the occupational hazards of going to a new play reading is the "not ready for prime time" thing.


A short day. Up till 2 am I didn't wake up till 9:30. Changed the litterboxes, vacuumed the Astroturf® they sit on. Made breakfast - scrambled eggs with ham - and soon it was almost 1 pm, time to refuel the car for the first time* and drive to Redwood City for the play reading mentioned in the previous post. This time the theater owner stayed for the show. On my way I stopped at my favorite RC cafe/bakery for one of these:

and notices a "Shut Up And Write" meetup sign at the next table. Two people were at their laptops, and a couple of people at other tables appeared to be writing too.

After the show, I drove to the other side of the railroad tracks and set up the laptop at Starbucks, and wrote my Avenue Q review.

Home, took the litterbox cartridges to the dumpster, made dinner (frozen chicken-fried steak) and wrote the Almost Happy review.

Plans for tomorrow:
Phone Audio Designs and let them know their work is not done. The camera is supposed to scroll through 4 views, it only does 2. Probably something not wired correctly.
Lunch with Celine from Toyota