Jonathan Rockefeller

Living and Laughing Together

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.

Dorothy (Michael LaMasa) with Rose (Arlee Chadwick), Blanche (Cat Greenfield) and Sophia (Emmanuelle Zeesman) in Jonathan Rockefeller's "That Golden Girls Show!—A Puppet Parody." Top (from left): Rose (Chadwick), Dorothy (LaMasa), Sophia (Zeesman) and Blanche (Greenfield).

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.

From left: Dorothy (LaMasa), Blanche (Greenfield), Sophia (Zeesman) and Rose (Chadwick) watching themselves on television. Photos by Russ Rowland.

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.

Print Friendly and PDF

Annnd He Was Still Hungry!

What do a blue horse, an egg-carrying seahorse, a lonely firefly, and a hungry caterpillar have in common? They are all characters created by beloved children’s author Eric Carle. These characters and others are brought to life through innovative storytelling and puppetry in Jonathan Rockefeller’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show. Of more than 70 books that Carle has written, Rockefeller's production draws on four: The Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse, Mister Seahorse, The Very Lonely Firefly, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
 
Although Carle’s books are recommended for children aged 10 and younger, this show has a wider appeal. When you get a reaction from audience members between the ages of 2 and 82, you know that you are doing something right. Everyone from all different backgrounds can relate to the deeper meaning in these four stories—expressing your true creative self no matter how wild and quirky your imagination might be, and the importance of a supportive loving family. The production also explores how a deep hunger for change can lead one to transform into the most beautiful butterfly.
 
Rockefeller and Eric Wright of the Puppet Kitchen have done a superb job engineering puppets and story to convey the artistry behind Carle’s storytelling. The Puppet Kitchen has replicated Carle’s unique illustrations down to his use of color, distinct lines, and shapes, and the use of tissue paper through puppetry. Specifically, the details of how each creature moves and looks are spectacular: some of the effects that were lifelike included the angelfish, the way the fireflies light up, and how the caterpillar hatches from its egg.

The cast (Kayla Prestel, Weston Long, Ariel Lauryn, and Jake Bazel) has worked hard to get the characters to step off the page. They have forged living, breathing creatures by manipulating the puppets in a realistic way and paying attention to each animal, insect, and human characterization: for example, the way the black bear raises its head to sniff the air or wiggle its bum, how Mister Seahorse twists and glides through the water, the way the pink rabbit hops, and how the caterpillar inches along. Long must also be praised for his vocal skills in giving each character an individual identity.

The puppets aren’t the only thing that makes this show great. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show has both illusion and spectacle. With simple sleight-of-hand, lighting, and the old bait-and-switch routine, this show finds seemingly magical effects to produce wonder and awe. Paintings appear without real paint, confetti and light combine to create fireworks that burst into the audience, and a drum light becomes a floating moon. In addition, the venue, a converted fire station with a highly raised stage, has good sight lines for every height of person.

If you have children or if you a child at heart, you're likely to find this show worth braving the cold for. It's a great indoor attraction to escape your cabin-fever blues.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show is playing through March 27 at the 47th Street Theater, 304 W. 47th St. Tickets are $49.50-$69.50 and may be purchased by visiting ticketcentral.com or by calling (212) 279-4200. For more information, visit hungrycaterpillarshow.com. 

 

 

Print Friendly and PDF