Chris Berg, the director of the play, said he chose “Avenue Q” because it’s hilarious, and he wanted to challenge himself with puppets. First performed in March 2003, “Avenue Q” has won the Tony Triple Crown for Best Musical, Best Score and Best Book.
The play opens with the puppet Princeton, a recent college graduate, who wonders what he’ll do with a B.A. in English.
“He’s pretty determined to use his education to its utmost potential, but he doesn’t have any idea where to start,” said Steven Grant Douglas of Stephen, Minn., who plays Princeton.
Princeton moves to Avenue Q, a street in an outer borough of New York City, in search of his life purpose. Along the way, he meets the residents of Avenue Q, who each have a problem of their own.
In the second song, “It Sucks to Be Me,” the audience is introduced to the rest of the cast. Brian — played by Jordan Wolfe of Grand Forks — is an unemployed 32-year-old who dreams of being a comedian; his fiancee Christmas Eve — played by Maura Ferguson of Grand Forks — is a Japanese therapist with poor English-speaking skills and no clients. Together, they are struggling to pay their bills.
Kate Monster, played by Lori Boucher of Fargo, is the girl next door with a big heart but no boyfriend. Rod, played by Darin Kerr of Grand Forks, is a Republican investment banker, who is struggling with his sexuality. And, the superintendent and former child actor Gary Coleman, played by Natasha Thomas of Grand Forks, is the butt of everyone’s jokes.
As Princeton tries to find his purpose, he encounters the Bad Idea Bears who lead him astray. He breaks Kate Monster’s heart, pursues Lucy the Slut and throws away all his money on alcohol.
As everyone’s lives start falling apart, the characters come together and help each other achieve their goals. At one point, the cast even comes out into the audience, asking for money to help build Kate Monster’s school for monsters.
The play is able to tackle sensitive topics like racism, homosexuality and addictions with comical songs and the use of puppets.
In “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist,” the play pokes fun at African Americans, Jews, Asian Americans and whites. Together, the characters come to the conclusion that everyone’s a little bit racist whether it’s telling race-specific jokes or believing stereotypes.
They also show their acceptance for homosexuality in “If You Were Gay,” a song where Nicky tells his roommate Rod that it’s OK to be gay.
Some of the more shocking songs include “The Internet is for Porn” and “You Can Be as Loud as the Hell You Want (When You’re Making Love),” where the characters openly sing about sex and porn addictions.
“It’s different because it’s coming from puppets,” Berg said. Although the play is in-your-face with crude comedy, he said, “The show actually has a great heart to it. Everyone’s sweet and has a nice story.”
Because of the nature of the play and the explicit content, “Avenue Q” isn’t intended for everyone. But Emily Burkland the director of the Empire Arts Center, said they won’t turn anyone away. “We’re trying to make sure people know they’re talking about porn, drinking and sexuality,” she said.
The play also includes full puppet nudity as Princeton and Kate Monster get down and dirty after a few drinks. “We’re not trying to push the envelope or shock the audience,” Burkland said. “We’re trying to introduce topics that are relevant.” Although there isn’t a restriction on age, the show is intended for mature audiences.
“Teenagers are dealing with these topics,” Burkland said. “If they are going to experience it, why not experience it in an art form that actually has meaning behind it.”
The play may be bold and outrageous at times, but Douglas said, “For the most part, it’s just the story of a bunch of people who live in an outer neighborhood of New York, who are just trying to get by.”
Director: Chris Berg
• Steven Grant Douglas as Princeton
• Jordan Wolfe as Brian
• Lori Boucher as Kate Monster
• Darin Kerr as Rod
• Cody Gerszewski as Nicky
• Maura Ferguson as Christmas Eve
• Natasha Thomas as Gary Coleman
• Evan Montgomery as Trekkie Monster, Bad Idea Bear & others
• Sasha Yearwood as Lucy, Bad Idea Bear Mrs. T & others
If you go:
What: “Avenue Q,” a musical comedy intended for mature audiences
When: 7:30 pm Aug. 2, 3 and Aug. 6 through 10
Where: Empire Arts Center, 415 DeMers Avenue, Grand Forks
Cost: $17 for adults; $15 for students and Empire members