I have to admit that I was adamant that Avenue Q was going to be Avenue Poo. As a child I was terrified of puppets, and the notion that this production was a warped Sesame Street simply was not my cup of tea. But, a great friend of mine stars in it, and after watching him give up his life for months on end to Shotgun rehearsals to ensure the performance was flawless (and him nagging me relentlessly to buy tickets), I couldn’t really wriggle out. Exeter students’ newsfeeds have been plagued with garish orange advertisements for a decent reason (see below).
I didn’t know a lot of context to the American musical before; however it is quickly becoming a global success for its hilarious script which blends satire with sentimentality. It tells the story of a recent graduate named Princeton, who bemoans “What do you do with a BA in English?” (Tragically I am currently asking myself the same question) and embarks on a journey to find his life purpose. Princeton moves into a shabby New York apartment all the way out in Avenue Q, which is uncannily supervised by the resurrected child-star Gary Coleman… There, Princeton befriends stock characters, Kate (the needy girl next door), Rod (the closeted homosexual Republican), Trekkie (the porn-obsessed misanthropist), Lucy the Slut (wayward female turned virginal angel), and other stereotypical adolescents – each going through their own existential crisis.
The puppeteers’ slickness of direction was outstanding. Silent comedic movement and slapstick alone caused hysterics in the adult audience. It is shocking to comprehend that the actors have only been rehearsing with the puppets for a matter of weeks; the students’ ability to multitask- to act, sing, dance, and control the puppets- was unbelievable. The talent certainly confirms that we should not equate student productions with amateur performance.
PC is not an appropriate term to describe Avenue Q. I knew it was going to be near the mark, having been told to expect frisky puppet sex, but the underlying message of the song ‘Everybody’s a Little Racist’- that is, that we’re all a little racist deep down, so we may as well accept it and move on- made me recoil in my seat a little. It was slightly uncomfortable being part of a predominantly white middle class audience laughing out loud at racist slurs such as ‘the Jews have all the money’ and ‘Mexican busboys should learn to speak goddam English’. I’m not entirely sure what was going through the writers’ heads when they thought this would be a good message to send globally. Maybe I’m missing the point and am too uptight for Avenue Q. It reminded me that, although unfortunate, a lot of humour does derive from subverting political correctness. Yes, the musical propounds stereotypes, but tongue-in-cheek absurdity is the essence of it.
I don’t know how long it will take me to recover from the bizarreness of Avenue Q. Waking up this morning, I’m certainly not any more inclined to be racist, sexist and homophobic than I was before last night’s carnivalesque performance. Neither have I discovered what I’m going to be doing with a redundant B.A in English. I urge you to go and experience it for yourselves. It won’t be a dull evening; it’s the first time I’ve seen an entire audience laugh from a puppet’s accidental nip slip.
You can get tickets for Avenue Q at: http://bit.do/ShotgunAvenueQ