Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Blush

On the cusp of Valentine’s Day, Half Shell would like to acknowledge that there are many kinds of love: epithumia (strong desire, lust or coveting); eros (head-over-heels romance); storge (feelings of natural affection and belonging); phileo (a sense of mutual intimacy); and agape (selfless love; love without expectation). For the purposes of today’s post we’re going to focus on the raunchy kind.

Last Monday we were invited to watch a rehearsal of live puppet sex. We are not making this up. Here is the invitation:

I would like to cordially invite you to the “Avenue Q” rehearsal at 6:00 p.m. on Monday, February 6 at the Courthouse Center for the Arts (3481 Kingstown Road, West Kingston) as the cast and creative team choreograph live puppet sex. Come see what it’s all about!

Elizabeth MacLachlan, the recently hired Courthouse staff member in charge of press and marketing, wrote the best PR pitch we’ve ever received, and since we are not in the habit of disappointing those who aspire to good writing, we went, joining a small group of voyeurs from the community to watch actors learn the joy of puppet sex from James Darrah, the puppet and dance captain (love puppet guru; puppet sex master) of Broadway’s Tony Award-winning “Avenue Q.”

An observation: One can never truly prepare oneself for graphic puppet sex. This was the Kermit Sutra. This was Deep Felt. Two horny puppets in bed giving it the old Howdy Doody. To evoke a worn chestnut from a long-ago Supreme Court ruling, we’re not sure what the definition of puppet porn is, but we know it when we see it. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise us if “puppets” becomes an option tucked between “milfs” and “threesomes” on certain Web sites, which we’ve heard exist out there somewhere.

Some sample instruction from Darrah to actors Talia Triangolo (as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut) and Aaron Lathrop (as Princeton/Rod):

Can you squeal?
Try it like it’s a Bergman film.
Flip him over. You’re going to flip him over. Then he’ll flip you over.
Keep going back and forth with the head.
Sing to the genitals.
It all ends with a spanking. And now you’re educating…
Go back in and, you know, bomb the fields.


Triangolo to Darrah: I know far less about puppet sex than you.
Lathrop, interjecting: There’s a resume-builder, right there.

The scene is Spinal Tap 11 funny, but it does make one reconsider “Fraggle Rock.” It also makes us wonder about Tickle Me, Elmo, H.R. Puff n’ Stuff and the suddenly icky Kukla, Fran and Ollie. Puppet theater was never just for kids, of course. From Punch and Judy to the elaborate marionette theaters of medieval Europe, puppets have long been a perfect medium for satirizing culture and indulging in society’s taboos in ways that might have gotten a live actor imprisoned or worse. Movies like “Being John Malkovich” and “Forgetting Sara Marshall” have helped bring more adults to the puppet genre, as have initiatives such as Blood From a Turnip, Rhode Island’s oldest late-night puppet salon, long based at Perishable Theatre in Providence.

The rehearsal also had a cheap peep show vibe that reminded us fondly of another lost and lamented Valentine’s tradition in which the Roger Williams Park Zoo held a kind of Oscars Night for animal porn – films showing the bizarre mating rituals of our friends in the animal kingdom. We won’t go into the details here, suffice it to say we’ll never look at garden snails, red-sided garter snakes, giant pandas, porcupines, banana slugs or Galapagos giant tortoises in the same way ever again.

But as they say: Birds do it, bees do it, even Bert and Ernie do it.

What is your strangest Valentine’s Day memory?