A Few Streets to the Left of 'Avenue Q'
"Are there any children in the audience?" a Kermit-the-frog clone asked in a 2007 show. When spectators answered "No," the green-coated puppet announced, "Thank God," before belting out the lyrics of "Whiskey Bar" by The Doors.
Puppet Folk Revival -- a new, modish Muppets show from Israel -- has been making a scene at the City Winery every Friday night during July. Their provocative, ad-libbed performance fuses light-hearted but rebellious comedy, traditional and folk-rock live music with puppetry. The month-long production is similar to the Broadway play, Avenue Q, but this crew's trademark is sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.
Last Friday night, the crowd was half-full with curiosity lingering, when three artists masqueraded as five characters who seemed to have a mouth of their own. Micah, Ari, and Jami (the humans) have been transforming into Phillip, Red, Poncho, Lefty and Cookie in this adult-oriented, hyper-realistic milieu for four years now.
When asked about the band's inspiration, Red, a life-sized, purple doll with exaggerated facial features, commented, "I was watching Jimi Hendrix on the stage at Woodstock, and I thought to myself, 'that man gets more pussy than anyone on the planet!' And I wanted me some of that," he said. "It hasn't worked out so well for me because of my erectile dysfunction."
After graduating from Tel Aviv University, the trio spent a few years working on film and television projects in cinematography, video, and sound-editing positions. But in the summer of 2005 things changed. Micah said they quit their jobs and concentrated on puppetry and music. Puppet Folk Revival -- also known as PFR -- started out as humble street performers in Israel and later became a full stage show. Also, the group has a T.V. series in Israel called "Red Band." The mock-up, documentary style features the modern day reunion of the band after its glory days in the early 70's.
The liveliest spectacles of PFR's creation are the puppets themselves. Ari said ninety percent of the show is left to spontaneity that is based on the character's mood and the audience.
"Part of what's funny about the show, I think, is that the puppets themselves are not too clear on what exactly is going on, and what is expected of them," Ari said. "They have a life of their own, their own mood swings and attitudes. We just kind of try to take a back seat, and let them do their thang."
Because the band started out as street performers, Ari said, it has a large stock of songs in different styles that go with various characters. Some of the characters are even obscured as playing instruments like the acoustic guitar and pedal-controlled drums.
"Playfulness is what this whole thing is about," he said.
Micah said all of their shows are performed in English with a relaxed, casual and satirical approach. PFR has performed shows in most of Israel's central venues including Barbie-Tel Aviv, Hangar 11, and Hamaabada in Jerusalem.
As the band continues to innovate every show with odd snatches of wit, music and whatever else comes to mind, the characters seem to preserve nostalgia.
"The nice thing about puppets is that they don't die or grow old or up," Micah said. "They also don't really seem to care about that kind of thing or about us, their humans, getting older."
"So it's a win-win relationship with an uncertain future."
-- London Clark
Puppet Folk Revival will be playing every Friday in July at the City Winery. The show is free and begins at 11 p.m. The City Winery is located on 155 Varick St. in New York City. For more information call (212) 608-0555 or visit www.citywinery.com.