The stage has served as the perfect place to tackle touchy subjects head on for centuries. Often, playwrights use metaphors, symbolism, clever dialogue, and carefully chosen props and settings to trumpet their message. But then there are those who forgo the word play and read-between-the-lines antics in favor of the more direct approach: saying exactly what they want to say, how they want to say it, when they want to say it. Which is precisely the route Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx chose to take with Avenue Q, the provocative musical comedy and the latest production at Mixed Blood Theater.
Through songs like “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist,” “If You Were Gay,” and “The Internet Is For Porn,” Avenue Q not only addresses tough issues, it does so without being even a little bit preachy. Another way it accomplishes this impressive feat: puppets. These aren’t your Sesame Street or Lamb Chop’s puppets, though. Oh no, these puppets are as hormone-ridden, contemplative, manipulative, and susceptible to worldly troubles as their human counterparts. In fact, thanks to excellent direction from Jack Reuler, the actors’ exceptional puppetry skills—all but one performer handles puppets at some point in the show, most while acting as humans, too—and the intimate setting of Mixed Blood, the show feels like it has double the actors than the program lists.
The plot revolves around Princeton, a shaggy haired, hoodie-wearing, unemployed twenty-something trying to find his purpose in life. His neighbors on Avenue Q are a mixture of humans and monsters, including a wannabe comedian, an extremely opinionated therapist, a pair of sexually confused best friends/roommates, and a purple, one-eyed kindergarten assistant—Princeton’s love interest. The play also includes satirical “educational” videos reminiscent of those on children’s TV programs—if children’s TV programs covered such topics as one-night stands. Although it’s a bit awkward to hear puppets tell dirty jokes and witness puppet-on-puppet action, the ultimate impression Avenue Q leaves on audiences is honest, funny, and, above all, real.
Playing through May 1
Mixed Blood Theater, 1501 S. Fourth St., Mpls., 612-338-0937