NORTH ADAMS -- Here in this low-rent street far from the city center live Rob and Nicky, wrangling room-mates; Trekkie Monster, who rarely leaves his room; Kate-monster, who dreams of helping children; Princeton, moving into his first apartment just after graduation; a would-be comedian, a therapist without clients, and a building supervisor with an illustrious past -- about to laugh and bust out singing.
Harlequin, the student drama club, will perform "Avenue Q" at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts through Saturday night.
Students run the entire production as directors, actors, live musicians, set and costume designers and crew -- and puppeteers.
"Everyone's working very hard. You couldn't ask for a better team," said co-dreictors Veronica Gibson and Benjamin Balon. Students have stepped in to record performances, take photographs and keep things running.
"People say ‘what can I do,' and we say ‘let's build a staircase'" Gibson said -- and students who didn't know they could hammer a nail wind up building a plywood apartment block.
"Avenue Q" feels like Sesame Street for adults: grown-up, complicted, blunt and bawdy, it has a neighborhood feeling among the people on the block who love and fight and screw up, who get scared and support each other
"It's the only thing like it," said Joshua Lapierre, who plays a host of puppet roles.
Many of the cast are playing more than one role, Gibson said.
Brittney Gerber plays Christ mas Eve, a Japanese-American therapist with two master's degrees.
"She's really smart," Gerber said.
Her character can seem simply comic, but she has solid depth, Gerber said. Because she is playing an Asian-American woman, and she is not Jap anese, Gerber has enjoyed the effort of learning Christmas Eve's background and language, her toughness and wit.
Harlequin votes the the spring musical every year, she ex plained. She saw "Avenue Q" off-Broadway with the club, on a New York field trip, and it won the vote.
"I'm excited because it's so funny," she said. "I think it's hysterical. You can see it 100 times and think something new is funny every time.
"That's one thing about a comedy -- you want to laugh at rehearsals," Gibson said, even in the spring break week when they built the set together around rehearsals and spend long hours in the theater.
"And it's really relevant," Gerber said.
The play centers on characters in their early 20s, as she is. She lives off campus this year and can relate to the elements of college they miss, living in a dorm, having a meal plan at the dining hall.
Even more, as a senior looking ahead to graduation, she can relate to the confusion and excitement of characters just out of college as they try to adjust to roommates and lovers, rent and apartments, jobs and bosses and responsibilities.
"There's a character everyone can relate to," she said -- "a funny older couple everyone looks up to and goes to for advice, a young couple falling in love, best friends living together."
Balon and Gibson agreed.
"It's perfect for the MCLA community," he said.
"It has so many real, human themes," Gibson said.
Students who can see the end of college ahead may feel a shiver when they sing, "What do you do with a BA in English" and "I wish I could go back to college." They are singing the voices of people who are where they themselves will be in two months' time, or in a year. These young people, collecting bills, job-hunting, drinking late on Sunday night and wanting to make a difference, may sound eerily familiar.
It is rare to find plays about people their own age or roles written for young actors, La pierre said.
The show has taught new skills, too. He and Gerber said they were glad to learn puppeteering. Gerber wants to be a teaching artist, she said, and she loves singing. She values a new skill.
Puppets "are harder to work than you think," she said
Many of the cast perform as a puppet, or as several puppets. They are not talking to the puppets, as a ventriloquist would, but taking on the puppet as a character.
Lapierre plays Trekkie Mon ster and several smaller puppet roles, and Courtney McLaren plays a brassy nightclub singer.
When they got the puppets, and could rehearse with them, they said, the play changed for them.
"They feel like people," La pierre said.
He and McLaren said they enjoyed developing voices for each puppet and gestures. The actors have to perform knowing that the audience will look at the puppets' faces and movements more than at the actors themselves. The puppets have a limited range of expressions, and they communicate a lot by body language.
They add a playful note to the rehearsal. They're a throwback to youth, McLaren said.
And actor on the set gave a director a hug with a puppet arm.
"We want to share that enjoyment with people who come to se the show," Lapierre said.
When they sing the finalle, the cast tears up, Lapierre said,, singing in the spring of their senior year, "Everything in life is only for now." If you go ...
What: Harlequin presents ‘Avenue Q'
Where: Venable Theater, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, off Church Street, North Adams
When: Wednesday to Saturday, March 19 to 22