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Furry-ous fists: ‘La Furia!’ features Elmo ruling the street

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It’s Elmo’s World — or else!

The cheery, smiling face of iconic red Sesame Street muppet Elmo hides a dangerous, power-hungry despot in a mostly-Spanish language play opening at the Bushwick Starr on Nov. 17. “Furry! La Furia!” tracks the life of a panhandling Elmo impersonator in Times Square, fighting for dominance among his fellow costumed characters. The fall from hardworking entertainer to violent hoodlum is a classic American tale, said the show’s creator.

“It starts from a really sincere and kind of survivalist mentality of maintaining your family and then it gets a little out of control,” said Bushwick writer and director William Burke. “It ultimately becomes a classic American crime story where he becomes too drunk with power.”

The play centers on street peddler “El,” who dresses as Elmo to hustle money from tourists and provide for his sick son. El treats his Times Square turf as a battle ground, using Sun Tzu’s combat strategy guide “The Art of War” to stave off would-be Elmo insurgents.

Burke was inspired by a newspaper story about a man in a Cookie Monster suit who stabbed a rival Cookie Monster in a turf war. The bizarre crime sparked Burke’s interest in the subculture of costumed street peddlers who pose with tourists and then demand cash in popular spots such as Times Square and Coney Island.

The kid-friendly appearance of the figures can make it easy to overlook their aggressive tendencies, said Burke.

“It’s easy to make it cartoonish, but when you go up there it’s quite disarming because there are all these cartoon characters, but they’re people who are really just trying to make a living — and that can be totally respectable or it can get violent,” he said.

An English version of the play was presented in Clinton Hill in 2013, but for this production it was translated into Spanish, in part by the actor who plays El, Modesto “Flako” Jimenez. The show will include screens with English subtitles so that non-Spanish speakers can follow along. Many of the real people in those costumes are Spanish-speaking immigrants, so using their language makes the show more realistic, and opens it to a broader audience, said Burke.

“I thought it would be really compelling to do something in that language and a lot of the poetry translates really well into Spanish,” said Burke. “It struck me as a good way to put new life into it and connect to new audiences.”

“Furry! La Furia!” at the Bushwick Starr [207 Starr St. between Wyckoff and Irving avenues in Bushwick, (917) 623–9669, www.thebushwickstarr.org]. Nov. 17–19, 21–22, 25–26 at 8 pm; Nov. 20 at 3 pm.

Reach reporter Caroline Spivack at cspivack@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2517. Follow her on Twitter @carolinespivack.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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