Fans of the hit television sitcom The Golden Girls can now experience Blanche (Cat Greenfield), Rose (Arlee Chadwick), Dorothy (Michael LaMasa) and Sophia (Emmanuelle Zeesman) all over again. But this time these lovely ladies have returned as puppets in Jonathan Rockefeller’s That Golden Girls Show!—A Puppet Parody. Capitalizing on moments from the original television show for loyal fans is where this production shines. Nostalgia quickly sets in upon entering the theater. Scenic and lighting designer David Goldstein marvelously transforms the stage into the women’s popular 1985 Miami living room and kitchen. From the floral paintings on the living room walls to the white, bamboo style chairs in the kitchen, everything feels like an exact replica of the original television show. When the opening theme song, “Thank You for Being a Friend,” started playing, the audience could not help but sing along.
The puppets, designed by talented puppet creator and director Joel Gennari, share a resemblance to the puppets on Avenue Q. They display their own customized wardrobe and accessories. Blanche even modifies her appearance after undergoing plastic surgery, with gigantic lips and larger breasts. Puppeteer Greenfield captures the seductive body movements of Blanche, and Zeesman nails Sophia’s cranky voice. As the only male performing with female puppets, LaMasa brings gravitas to Dorothy, while Chadwick never fully blossoms into Rose.
The production is filled with hilarious gags and zingers as the women clash with one another. Sophia talked openly about Dorothy’s sex life and bluntly says, “Dorothy hasn’t been laid since Nixon.” Dorothy commented on Blanche’s appearance and said, “[Blanche], that color really complements your stretch marks.” Later, Dorothy repeats a joke and Blanche says, “Dorothy, that’s the same joke twice.” Without hesitation, Dorothy says, “Like your boobs, [Blanche].” Complaining about her own sex life, Blanche says, “I don’t know if I’d know a penis if I sat on one.” Sophia doesn’t hold back from talking about Dorothy’s weight either: “Last time we went to the beach Greenpeace actually tried to pull [Dorothy] back into the ocean.” Instead of partaking in the quick-witted banter, simple-minded Rose resorts to sharing a story about an absurd, fictional Scandinavian language that she learned during her upbringing in St. Olaf, Minn.
At 90 minutes, the show eventually falters by relying solely on the popularity of these sassy, larger-than-life women and their personalities more than a clear plot for the audience to grasp. At times the pacing lags and the jokes feel forced. It quickly becomes predictable that the only way these women can solve their problems is by returning to the kitchen and sitting around another cheesecake.
Eventually, a delayed plot unfolds that has Blanche and Rose chasing after Dorothy’s shadowy ex-husband, Stanley—played not by a puppet but by Zach Kononov—and his inheritance. Blanche unsuccessfully attempts to seduce Stanley with her deflatable breasts. Rose meticulously whips up some white goop in the kitchen that looks like porridge for Stanley to enjoy. Dorothy, unaware of Stanley’s inheritance, spends her time struggling with her broken heart and the thought of having him back in her life. Sophia cannot restrain herself from digressing and sharing her opinions about Stanley and Dorothy’s relationship. Since Stanley is played by a live actor, he communicates with Dorothy through a homemade sock puppet that he uses for therapeutic purposes.
The play really begins to reach for new material, or fill in time, toward the latter part when the women sit around an outdated television set in their living room and watch themselves on The Golden Girls. It is like being deliberately reminded that the production is just supposed to be a parody, and it takes away from the show’s power. The real magic is experiencing how the original material from the television show translates to a world of smart-mouthed puppets living together in Miami.
For audiences unfamiliar with the original television show, the references and inside jokes might not land as well, and the play could feel like a saucy offshoot of Avenue Q without the songs. For die-hard “golden girls,” the production may not entirely reach the same expectations that they would have by staying home and watching reruns of the television show. That Golden Girls Show!—A Puppet Parody does have a little something for everyone who enjoys quick-witted humor from the perspective of a group of women living out their golden years together.
That Golden Girls Show!—A Puppet Parody runs until Dec. 11 at the DR2 Theatre (103 East 15 St., between Irving Place and Union Square East) in Manhattan. Evening performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 10 p.m. on Friday; and 8 p.m. on Saturday. Matinee performances are at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets cost $69 or $99. To purchase tickets, call 800-982-2787 or visit thatgoldengirlsshow.com.