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Open: 10/22/10- Close: 12/17/10 Love Is Like Mud: A Puppet Rock Opera In One Act
Reviewed for By: Marguerite Spellman

When a play is introduced as a “work in progress”, you expect to be in for a ride. A ride is what "Love is Like Mud" delivers. While it sets up a simple and expected story of two city-dwelling lovers, the sheer inertia will take you along and draw you in.

    "Love is Like Mud," which is presented by the OFF Theatre Company at the Tank theater, is a puppet musical love story about Ann and Jon, two lonely hearts that start on a romantic journey after meeting on the subway. We follow their story from one-night stand to falling in love to breaking up and making up. The play opens with an old man simply named "Waiter" who functions as a narrator and takes many roles such as a taxi driver and bartender. Throughout the play, he interjects his opinions about the “kids today” and their approaches to love. He sings the theme song "Love is Like Mud," describing love as a mushy substance that slips through your fingers, setting up the idea of the transient nature of love, which plays out throughout the rest of the show. We are then introduced to Jon and Ann, both lonely in their respective apartments. They duet on a lovely song that aptly hits in the isolation and self pity that seems to be a consequence of living in New York City in "Runts of the Litter." They have an awkward meeting on the subway in which Jon tries to lay on his moves smoothly, which read more creepy and inept, and is swiftly rebuked by Ann, who , however, gives him a chance and her number.

The irreverent nature of this show is set up from the first scene. These puppets are definitely geared toward adult content. This is complete with anatomical correctness that is fully displayed during a graphic puppet sex scene after a very short first date, while the unsubtly named song "Come Inside" plays.  At which point nothing is left up to the imagination. And just in case puppet sex wasn’t enough, large pillowy organs are brought on to demonstrate the act in a more up close and personal fashion. It is a bold choice, but one that exemplifies the freedom that is given when puppets are used in a representational fashion.

However, not all goes well for our lovers and they are driven to distraction, another consequence of the city. In the song “Wander Lust”, both Jon and Ann lament the flesh parade that is the summer in the city. This desire, mixed with a general sense of dissatisfaction that is never really explained specifically in the play, leads Ann to leave Jon.

This show jumps back and forth between general platitudes and revelations that hit upon a deeper truth. While nothing really unexpected happens in this story, there are some nice moments in which the characters reveal an insight into relationships and people. Such is accomplished in the song "The Problem with the Kids Today" in which the Waiter sings "What do they want? Is it really what they want?" A lyric that works because of  its simple, honest statement of the problem with the easily distracted, ever mind-changing people today, who are constantly bombarded with with so much stimulation that they are unable to commit to anything. Such moments were very gratifying in the story.

The show mainly functions as a concert, with a band playing underneath the shadow box-like stage that displays the puppets.  Ben Folstein, who created the show,  stars as lead guitarist and vocals for Jon and Waiter. He plays and sings with a playfulness that is engaging and fun to watch. He is accompanied by Nicole Cardona vocalizing for Ann.  Cardona has an amazing voice, able to sing sweetly and soulfully in some songs, while also being able to belt with impressive strength and tone in others. The songs had a wide and diverse range, but most had a strong upbeat  rhythm that infused the show with an energetic pace that did not falter. While the story was a little simplistic, the songs carried the show forward with creative lyrics and entertaining progressions.

This show had some technical hiccups, which came with the "work in progress" territory. Working the puppets seemed to be a struggle in the fast paced show. This was evident from transitions that seemed to go on a bit too long to Ann’s immense  head of hair that covered her face more often than not and was a bit of a distraction. At another point of the show,  two giant cut outs of phones are lifted onstage to represent Jon and Ann’s first phone call, one phone with Jon’s name on it and one with Ann’s. However, this put a halt on the show for a moment when Folstein took a moment to explain that Jon’s phone had Ann’s name and Ann’s had Jon’s name on it because he was was calling her and she him. Such moments were charming but a little unpolished.

Jon and Ann get back together in the end,  admitting that no matter what problems they have, they have chemistry in the finale song entitled "Chemistry". This is a song that encapsulates the feel of the show in which no matter what problems it may have, there is a chemistry to it that is worth a listen.

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The Tank : 354 West 45th street