Review: Avenue Q at Cockpit in Court

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy

Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission

If you’re looking for some good old fashioned educational television that teaches kids how to count to 12 or has a word of the day presented by a green frog… you won’t find any of that here at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s first offering of the season, Avenue Q by Jeff Whitty and Music and Lyrics by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx, Directed by Todd Starkey with Music Direction by R. Chris Rose and Choreography by Elise Starkey. This is a stretch for Cockpit in Court, compared to their previous showings and I, for one, am glad they took the leap. It’s a funny, in-your-face show that leans more toward adult humor that will have you laughing and nodding your head about things you often think of but don’t say because you’re too courteous to do so.

The Cast of Avenue Q at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Avenue Q tells a tale about a college graduate, Princeton, trying to find his “purpose” in life. It is set in NYC, all the way out on Avenue Q (because Princeton couldn’t afford anything more). While he is struggling to find his purpose, he meets friends, finds love, loses love, and finds it again. Loosely inspired by the famous Sesame Street, this puppet-filled world reflects the crazy, sometimes filthy, adult realities of the world around us. We learn that real life isn’t really as simple as we dreamed it would be when we were kids, but this show hints that, even though it’s not like the dreams we had, life is still colorful and worthwhile.

Bob Denton’s Set Design is simple, yet superb. His design treats us to a set of detailed row homes and shop fronts that have been seemingly turned into apartments and his choice of drab, dull colors and use of second story levels adds a distinct realism to the piece. His attention to detail is fantastic and he uses his space wisely, creating a unit set with set pieces that enter and exit to express more specific spaces. Overall, Denton is to be applauded for his work.

Costume Design by Eva Grove is spot on as the characters come to life in their individual attire. Though most of the puppets probably came in their own garb, Grove’s work is still evident in the “human” characters in this piece and her choice of costumes enhanced the characters. For instance, the unkempt look of Brian, the slacker, and the more put together but traditional Asian fashions for Christmas Eve really took these characters to the next level. Kudos to Grove for a job well done.

Elise Starkey took on the task of Choreographing this piece and creates engaging movement that is a delight to watch. She seems to know and understand her cast and their abilities and her choreography enhances their abilities and makes for fun, upbeat numbers that the cast obviously enjoys performing. This production doesn’t require huge dance numbers but Starkey has created choreography that is simple enough to fit perfectly into the production but intricate enough to stay interesting and entertaining.

Veteran Music Director R. Chris Rose has guided this ensemble beautifully keeping them in harmony and on key. Many of the ensemble members are singing in character voices, but Rose has not skipped the musicality in spite of that challenge. He has a tight grasp on this material and it’s apparent through the performances of the apt ensemble. It’s absolutely worth mentioning the stellar and on point pit orchestra he’s assembled though it is unfortunate that the program (both hard copy and online) does not list the players as it wouldn’t be a musical without music and this pit orchestra should be applauded for their efforts.

The Cast of Avenue Q at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Todd Starkey takes the helm of this production and is no-holds-barred, which is just the kind of kick in the rear that Cockpit in Court needs. He takes the script, in full, and presents it with a clear vision and fearless attitude. Now, this type of show could be considered tame in some theatres in town, but this is actually a big step for Cockpit in Court and I’m very excited they’re taking it. Starkey’s casting is superb and it’s clear he has a great comprehension of the text and the message that being an adult just plain sucks sometimes, but life goes on and we figure things out as we go. Kudos to Mr. Starkey for a job very well done on this production.

Moving on to the performance aspect of this production of Avenue Q, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the hard work this ensemble put into the performance of this production. It must be a major challenge working with puppets but these actors seem to have mastered this task. In some cases, two people are needed to operate one puppet and those teams are flawless. The audience may even forget these characters are puppets because the actors are doing such a great job in their operation and portrayals.

As the human characters, Tigga Smaller as Gary Coleman, Stanton Zacker as Brian, and Suzanne Zacker as Christmas Eve give terrific performances and hold their own against the novelty of puppet characters. Smaller, though a bit scripted and stiff in her dialogue is a powerhouse when it comes to vocal stylings and Stanton Zacker and Suzanne Stacker’s characters are spot on with great chemistry and timing that is necessary for this piece.

Lauren Stuart, who is no stranger to the Baltimore stages, takes on the character of Lucy, the promiscuous and slutty puppet and she pulls off this character near flawlessly. Her featured number, “Special” is impressive and she certainly makes a splash.

Josh Schoff as Princeton. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Josh Schoff takes on Princeton, our “hero” and his character work is notable had one really feels for this character throughout the show. Vocally, he pulls off his numbers nicely, but his strengths lie in the character which he portrays authentically and with confidence giving a great showing.

Will Meister as Trekkie Monster (with Tate Erickson) may be one of my favorite characters as it seems Trekkie Monster has lost all give-a-f***. Meister’s portrayal, with the help Erickson (he’s a big monster so, he needs two puppeteers to manage), makes this character both crude and lovable. His featured number “The Internet is for Porn” is definitely funny and the tinge of truth it has makes on think. The teamwork between Meister and Erickson is top-notch and they are to be commended for their portrayal as Meister is to be commended for the character study he’s put into it.

A highlight in this piece is Clare Kneebone as Kate Monster, the sweet “girl-next-door” who, like Princeton, has aspirations but doesn’t quite know how to achieve them. Kneebone plays her sweetl,y but real and rough around the edges, which makes this character so authentic. She understands this character and the material and even though she is using a character voice, the realism comes through because of that comprehension. Vocally, Kneebone does not disappoint with a clear, booming voice that resonates throughout the theatre as it does in her featured, poignant number, “There’s a Fine, Fine Line.” She’s certainly one to watch.

Amanda Poxon and Will Poxon as Nicky and Josh Starkey as Rod. Credit: Cockpit in Court

Definite standouts in this production are Josh Starkey as Rod and Will Poxon (with Amanda Poxon) as Nicky. These actors take their performances to the hilt and completely embody these characters. Starkey, as Rod, skillfully uses a character voice that fits perfectly (and is reminiscent of Bert from Sesame Street fame) and an uptight attitude to match. He brings this character to life easily and through the character voice, vocally, he is spot on, especially in his cute and tender featured number, “Fantasies Come True.” A perfect match for Starkey’s Rod is Will Poxon’s Nicky, who he operates with Amanda Poxon). If any of these characters are perfect, it would be Nicky. Will Poxon’s character voice couldn’t be more perfect (which, of course, is an homage to Ernie from Sesame Street) and it takes his performance to the next level. It’s worth mentioning, too, that Amanda Poxon, though silent, gives a stellar performance with just her face and gestures that help this performance rise to the top. In his featured and hilarious number, “If You Were Gay” will have you in stitches and he doesn’t falter once, vocally. Kudos and congratulations to Starkey and Poxon for impeccable performances.

Final thought…Avenue Q is a fun and quirky look at the adult side of puppetry and no-holds-barred look at life from the point of view of someone just starting out in the real world. The production value is phenomenal, the performances are top-notch, the puppetry and character work are stellar, and the story/script, though not suited for all, is engaging and good in the way that it is not trying to be more than what it is… a comedy that makes people laugh (sometimes nervously) and says the things we are all sometimes thinking but are too polite to say. The music is modern with some catchy tune and makes for a delightful evening well spent. Don’t let this one pass you by this season. Get your tickets!

This is what I thought of Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre’s production of Avenue Q… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!

(Puppets Constructed by Character Translations, Inc. for Music Theatre International. Avenue Q has not been authorized or approved by the Jim Henson Company or Sesame Workshop, which have no responsibility for its content.)

Avenue Q will run through July 1 at Cockpit in Court Summer Theatre, CCBC Essex, Robert and Eleanor Romadka College Center, F. Scott Black Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.

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Review: The Graduate at Dundalk Community Theatre

By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
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Running Time: Approx. 2 hours a 15-minute intermission

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Dyana Neal as Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


“Plastics.” If you are familiar with this one-word movie quote, you are familiar with one of the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Movie Quotes of All Time (#42), and the 1967 film The Graduate. It’s a classic film with big name stars such as Dustin Hoffman and Anne Bancroft and gave us the musical styling of the impeccable Simon and Garfunkle, including the well-known “Sound of Silence.” In 2002, The Graduate was taken from the screen and transferred to the stage starring Kathleen Turner, Jason Biggs, and Alicia Silverstone, who were all on their games at the time and it was a critical and commercial hit during its year-long, 380 performance run. The Graduate is now Dundalk Community Theatre’s latest offering, Directed by Todd Starkey, and presents this 1960’s coming-of-age and still-relevant piece to a new generation, some of whom may be dealing with similar personal problems as the complex characters in the story.
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Stephen Edwards Rachel Verhaaren, and Elisabeth Johnson. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Scenic Design by Marc W. Smith (who also wears the hats of Lighting and Sound Design, as well as Technical Director, in general) is, to say the least, exquisite. Smith, being the resident Scenic Designer for Dundalk Community Theatre, knows his space and is wise in his choice of a clean, minimal unit set utilizing set pieces to present various locations. Though the set is minimal, Smith has a great attention to detail with his choice of pieces adding a realistic, but non-hindering value to the production as a whole. With the amount of locations written in the script, the pieces are many and cause for a few lengthy transitions, but the design is superb, as a whole.
Costume Design by Eva Grove, who also graces the stage in a few supporting roles, is spot on and absolutely appropriate for the 1960s setting. Being a unique and eclectic time for fashion, Grove has managed to represent it flawlessly with loud colorful patterns, as well as subdued conservative looks that help, not distract from the action and setting. Her well thought-out, detailed design adds great value to the entire production.
Todd Starkey takes the helm of this production and, directing an adaption of an already well-known piece is always a challenge, but Starkey seems to have stepped up to that challenge. There are definite minor issues with the script, the main problem being missing information. If you’re familiar with the film, you’ll be okay, but if you are not, you might get confused as to how the relationship between the younger characters blossom and why but, taking it at face value, the gist is still intact. Starkey has cast his show well and has a good comprehension of the material and, aside from a few aforementioned lengthy transitions (the production could have done without a few of the blackouts, which broke up the momentum a bit), the pace is appropriate and consistent. Overall, Starkey should be applauded for his efforts in bringing this relevant and relatable story to the stage.
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Dyana Neal and Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Moving on to the performance aspect of this piece, it’s worth stating that the entire ensemble is dedicated and gives 100% effort to this production and each player works hard to bring this material together to tell this multifaceted story.
Alice Scanlon and Thomas “Toby” Hessenauer take on the roles of the caring, but somewhat oblivious Mr. and Mrs. Braddock. Though Scanlon is a little stiff and scripted in her performance, she clearly understands the character of the hapless, naïve mother who is a woman of a different time and is content being a housewife and letting the males in her life take the lead. She pulls off the role nicely and compliments the superb performance from Hessenauer, who is a highlight of this production and who completely embodies the character of the financially and, some would consider, personally successful Mr. Braddock. He emotes the confidence and strong will of a 1960s head-of-household. He works well with and off of his fellow cast mates that makes for a brilliant and believable performance.
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Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock and Elisabeth Johnson as Elaine Robinson. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


John Dignam as Mr. Robinson and Elisabeth Johnson and Elaine Robinson make up 2/3 of the dysfunctional Robinson family and are major players in this tawdry tale. Elisabeth Johnson does well with the role, having a good understanding of her character and the naiveté and sheltered upbringing that makes up Elaine Robinson. She has good chemistry with her cast mates and gives a commendable portrayal, save an over the top, hokey scene where her character gets drunk and Johnson is scripted and unnatural, barely getting her dialogue out, but, overall, she gives a delightful performance.
John Dignam is another highlight of this piece, portraying the at first confident, successful business man to distraught husband near flawlessly. His dramatic turn where his character breaks down and confronts Ben, his unassuming nemesis, is a bit forced and unnatural but, aside from that, his performance is strong, confident, and authentic.
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Dyana Neal as Mrs. Robinson and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock. Credit: Dundalk Community Theatre


Last but certainly not least, we have Dyana Neal as the sensual cougar, Mrs. Robinson, and Stephen Edwards as Benjamin Braddock, the young man who is just searching for purpose, like so many so soon after graduating from college. It’s clear that Neal and Edwards have a firm grasp of their characters, but, unfortunately, the chemistry between the two is just not as apparent. Both play their characters well, individually, with Neal being the stronger performer, but are missing the connection and attraction required of these two characters, not to mention the awkward, forced insinuation of sexual acts that are, I assume, supposed to be humorous to downplay the sex, but just end up falling flat. Neal is on point with the sultriness of the bored Mrs. Robinson and keeps her character consistent, as she should be portrayed. It’s also worth mentioning Neal’s velvet voice that is a pleasure to listen to and makes it easy to understand why she is on the radio. Edwards starts off portraying Benjamin Braddock as an awkward, unsure recent graduate, which works perfectly, but as the story moves forward, Benjamin is supposed to find his footing and become surer of himself and comfortable with the world around him, but Edwards can’t seem to find that arc in this character. With that being said, he exudes a certain confidence and authenticity that makes for a charming performance.
Final thought…The Graduate is a coming-of-age story with a good blend of lightheartedness and complexity that keeps this piece interesting. Being a well-known, classic film, there are built-in challenges of transferring to the live stage and for those who are unfamiliar with the film, there may be some missing pieces in the script and it may seem a little jumbled and rushed, but in the end, you get the gist of the story. The performances are commendable and, aside from the numerous blackouts breaking up the flow, the pacing is decent. The story itself is timeless and relatable, so it’s worth checking out this well put-together production.
This is what I thought of Dundalk Community Theatre’s production of The Graduate… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
The Graduate will run through March 4 at Dundalk Community Theatre, College Community Center, John E. Ravekes Theatre. For tickets call the box office at 443-840-ARTS (2787) or purchase them online.
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