Avenue Q Toronto Production

Not an easy lesson, learning that we’re all a little bit racist. Hearing it from a cast of puppets in a sassy musical certainly helps soften the blow. The suggestion, delivered in enthusiastic song, is one of many not-so-politically-correct ideas that drive the comedic production Avenue Q, on stage until February 4 at the Lower Ossington Theatre.

A local production of the bizarre and award-wining Broadway favourite, the show bills itself as part Sesame Street, part South Park, and — as the aforementioned song fulfills — a little bit racist. “Ethnic jokes may be uncouth/but you’ll laugh because they’re based on truth,” sing the puppets, manipulated by fully-visible humans dressed in black.

The show is a truly bizarre and at times discomfiting mix of the jubilant and the socially unacceptable, which jams so many faux pas and intentional offenses — including graphic puppet sex — into two hours of song and dance that barbarism and depravity soon start to feel quite normal.

The play is the coming of age story of a young college grad named Princeton, who’s earned a shiny new B.A. in English and thinks he’s ready to make it big. Upon arrival in the big city, he moves into an apartment block on Avenue Q, a low-rent street occupied by a colourful mix of broke-ass people and equally broke-ass monsters.

Princeton’s dreams are soon shaken, as he struggles to pay his bills and find post-graduation purpose. Fortunately, he is surrounded by a caring and equally-confused group of neighbours: a pair of (potentially) gay roommates oddly similar to Ernie and Bert; Brian and his controlling Japanese bride, Christmas Eve; a porn-crazed upstairs neighbour, Trekkie Monster; and their down-but-not-out landlord, Gary Coleman. (Yes, that Gary Coleman. It’s just that kind of play.)

The show is cleverly written, full of great musical numbers, and deftly executed by an ensemble of strong puppeteers. Adam Proulx/Princeton, Kira Hall/Kate Monster and Adam Norrad/Trekkie Monster drive the action with emphatic acting and great voices, never drawing attention away from their hand-held companions.

Their all-human counterparts are less impressive, but it’s a hard standard to live up to. It’s difficult to believe Christmas Eve left Japan for a better life in the United States, and even harder to believe her accent. Meanwhile, it’s surprisingly easy to accept anything coming out of the puppets’ mouths — even when they all find meaning after one of them gives a quarter to a hobo.

We’ll spare you the specifics, but the show ends on the same high note it holds throughout, laughing in the face of destitution and thumbing its nose at appropriate behaviour: Lucy the Slut finds God, and the Bad Idea Bears find Scientology.

And everyone else? They realize that both the good and shitty things in life are all likely temporary. “Sex is only for now… Your hair is only for now,” they chant. “Rob Ford is only for now.” Based on the audience’s uproarious cheering, they took that as good news. $45-$60, 100A Ossington Avenue, 416-915-6747

Image courtesy of Seanna Kennedy Photography.

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