Puppets, Family, Slamily: Things Happened This Weekend

This wonderful photo completely sums up Avenue Q. We borrowed it from Andy Ribner ’14 at the Argus. 1470323_642176665834299_1848190613_n

An editor’s note from Gabe: 

Here are the events this past weekend that this post could not cover: Samsara at Crowell Concert Hall, An Intimate Party Experience at WestCo, “The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano” in Memorial Chapel, Greedy Lying Bastards at Downey, Magic Man at Art House, Chrome Sparks at Eclectic, Freestyle Rap Battle at WestCo Cafe, Stand Clear of the Closing Door, The Palm Beach Story, and Fruitvale Station at the Film Series, Feministing at PAC, Ricordati di me at Fisk, Zongo Junction at 200 Church, Wesleyan Experimental Music Festival at Russell House, Gamelan at World Music Hall, Improv Comedy Tri-Show in the Nics lounge, and probably other things. (If you want us to cover more of these things, then maybe you should think about joining the Wesleying staff. Just saying.) (Also, here’s separate coverage on Wes Thinks Big.)

On any given weekend at Wesleyan University, a lot of stuff happens. Honestly, it’s the biggest problem of my undergraduate experience that I can’t actually attend everything I’d love to. So, you see what you can and hear from other people how everything else went. 

I asked Wesleying staffers to attend one of the many theater or performance events going on this past weekend, between November 21st and November 23rd, and give them some proper coverage. These are the events they chose, and these are their observations, critiques, compliments, and impressions. If you want to take something from this post, it’s this: Leave your dorm room and attend something. It’s worth it, and the students here are damn talented. You might just enjoy yourself.

Next to Normal (Thursday–Saturday, November 21st-23rd, 2013 at ’92 Theater):1455116_10151803132501448_927050972_n

Next to Normal, which played this weekend in the ’92 Theatre, felt scarily appropriate as we all prepare to head home to our families for the holidays. I can only hope that most of us have families more functional than that of the Goodmans, whose struggle with mother Diana’s bipolar disorder is chronicled in the two hour, 15 minute musical.

The show, directed by Sarah Corey ’15, dealt with the intricacies of both family life and mental illness incredibly skillfully, often walking the line between painfully funny and painfully real in minutes. The six person cast was well-suited to the task, handling Tom Kitt’s score and Brian Yorkey’s lyrics with relative ease. Any slip-ups were quickly remedied (and understandable: not being able to see one’s conductor is hard!) Miranda Orbach ’15’s choreography felt natural and appropriate, an accomplishment in a show that depends on feeling real, even as its characters lose touch with reality.

The standout of the show was undoubtedly Tess Jonas ’15, who was almost unbelievably convincing as a bipolar mother in her late thirties. She has an incredible voice and was able to navigate the extremes of the part without sounding overly harsh, unlike her Broadway counterpart Alice Ripley. The other Goodmans (Michael Linden ’15, Beanie Feldstein ’15, and Paul McCallion ’15) were well able to hold their own, as were Cole Chiumento ’14 as daughter Natalie’s stoner boyfriend, and Liam Tran ’17 as Diana’s “scary rockstar” doctor. That the Goodmans were so believable as a family was an unexpected bonus.

I particularly liked being able to see music director Marc Whittington ’14 through the set as he conducted the band. His grin during “Light,” the show’s finale, had me smiling through my tears, reminded of just why this story works so well as a musical. In the show, music serves both as an escape from and a reminder of reality. Good theatre does the same.

Next to Normal is not an easy show to see, but it is a worthwhile one. Part of its power is that every character is hurting; Diana is far from the only one who needs help. In a community where mental health issues are so prevalent, it’s important for us to remember that we are all fallible, that pain is not weakness. The show’s ending is bittersweet, yet oddly hopeful: the price of love is pain, but it’s worth paying.


Avenue Q (Thursday–Saturday, November 21st-23rd, 2013 at Beckham Hall):

1424400_10202508480250681_1881254689_nAvenue Q is a very different show than Next to Normal. We’re saying this because after we saw Avenue Q on Thursday night, we went to see Next to Normal the very next night, and the contrast was striking. Just on the surface, Avenue Q is a hilarious show. Next to Normal is the opposite.

Despite financial hardships and the understandable difficulty of puppet manipulation, Second Stage’s production of Avenue Q proved, in our opinion, to be a successfully lighthearted and enjoyable endeavor. Though sound seems to be an issue at all amateur shows, the pit band was in sync and, most importantly, didn’t overpower the singing. Certain performers, musically, were definite standouts, notably: Katie Solomon ’15 [Lucy the Slut], whose smoky alto complemented her character’s sleaze, Dominique Moore ’14, [Kate Monster] and Dan Storfer ’15, whose guttural grumbles never sounded forced. Though Avenue Q isn’t a vocally demanding musical, in comparison to other Broadway canon, both the ensemble and solo singing could have used some more working with. But no singer was bad by any means. (As a side note, the harmonies in Next to Normal blew our collective mind.)

The set design was well constructed and was generally used effectively. It’s a cartoonish show, and the minimal touch on props and surroundings allowed the lyric- and dialogue-based humor to be the real thing to come through. Except, of course, when Kate and Princeton have hilarious puppet sex. Body language and the puppet control made that shine.

Unfortunately, the cast only got two weeks to work with the puppets (apparently those things are hella expensive), and that meant that occasionally the puppet/human dynamic was out of sync. Johnny LaZebnik ’16 deserves a shout-out for manipulating his Rod (how dirty) with great skill, making use of the puppet’s mannerisms to emphasize attention on it, rather than on him. Avenue Q shone most when we could dissolve the puppet/puppeteer distinction and really see the personality shine threw the felt, rather than its controller.

In normal scenes, however, there could have been improvement in comedic timing. A show like Avenue Q, where the jokes are driven by references and quips, necessitates excellent delivery. The show was definitely hilarious, but certain individual performances did somewhat miss the mark.

To the Avenue Q team’s credit, the show was delivered with the raunchiness it necessitates, keeping the audience – ourselves included – in sustained laughter for pretty much all of the show.

Gabe and Justinian

WeSlam Grand Slam (Saturday, November 23rd, 2013 at CFA Hall):grand slam

CFA Hall came alive Saturday night under dim lighting, packed with students there to hear some beautifully-chosen words from WeSlam at their Grand Slam event, in which five poets would be chosen to represent Wesleyan in Boulder, CO at the CUPSI national collegiate slam poetry tournament.

Jess Best ’14 played some soft jams just offstage with Will Fraker ’14 and Jeff Berman ’14. Host and poet extraordinaire Simone Beaubien spoke a poem about Evil Knievel’s attempts to fly despite failure, and another about gymnastics as a sport. Five judges were chosen–few were willing. The point system was established (but fuck the points). Sacrificial poet Jason Reitman ’15 spoke some wordilicious phrases. Then the slam began.

20 beautiful poems were judged that evening. One about belly buttons and becoming whole, at some point I heard a drawled Southern accent, a lot of animal similes, and another about parental divorce. After Round One and some more beautiful words by Simone (who I secretly think holds some of the answers to the mysteries of the universe), I heard a poem practically made up of Shakespeare’s complete works, another about impossible human being James Franco, and one about eloping with a couch.

Shouts out to the extended metaphor about planes, and finding a balance between expectation and reality. Didn’t realize it was poetry until the poem was halfway through; until then it just “sounded like talking,” and I realized that’s what makes spoken word beautiful–sometimes, or maybe always, it’s just talking. Feeling things out, through words.


This story has been told out of order and irreparable damage has been done to the poems mentioned in trying to sum them up. Go and see poetry happen, WeSlam rules, and support our five-person team as they head out to Boulder for CUPSI!


[Editor’s note: Congratulations to this year’s WeSlam team, which includes: Rick Manayan ’17, Max Friedlich ’17, Emily Weitzman ’14, Chekira Lashley ’15, and the winner of the slam, Markeisha Hill ’16.]
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3 thoughts on “Puppets, Family, Slamily: Things Happened This Weekend

  1. WesGuest

    Next time you review a show, consider staying past intermission. And consider coming to the production, rather than a dress rehearsal!

    1. Gabe

      You can disagree with our reviews, that’s fine. There’s a reason they’re presented not as the OFFICIAL JUDGEMENT but as one (or two) person’s personal opinion. But to clarify, I did stay to the end of all three shows, and they were all official productions.

  2. WesGuest

    Next time you review a show, consider staying past intermission. And coming to the production, rather than a dress rehearsal!

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