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The puppeteers rule in Cain Park's randy Avenue Q

Nobody is ever ready for the onslaught of adulthood that leaps on you, like a rabid raccoon, soon after you graduate from college. But this is the trauma that's expertly rendered in Avenue Q, the 2003 musical that is now providing laughs aplenty at Cain Park's Alma Theatre. This adult and unauthorized spinoff of Sesame Street features puppets attached to their very visible puppeteers and a list of songs that are as witty as their titles.

Created by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx (music and lyrics) and Jeff Whitty (book), and directed vibrantly by Russ Borski, this Avenue Q has the courage of its own rowdy convictions.

Sure, there are a couple of dead spots in the quickly aging script, and some words are lost due to rushed deliveries and overly embellished character voices. But the strong Cain Park cast reliably pings the gag lines and even manages to elicit a tender moment or two.

It all supposedly takes place in an outer borough of New York City where the rent is cheap for twenty-somethings. Here, though, the script has been unnecessarily localized, apparently to enable a tired but always sure-fire Parma joke.

Princeton is the new kid on the block and he is instantly indoctrinated into the neighborhood zeitgeist as the folks croon, "It Sucks to Be Me." From dating inaction to job disasters, it appears no one is having a good time.

But hey, all is not lost: There's still sex. And these puppets are a randy bunch willing to be, ah, felt up at a moment's notice. Quite a feat, since none of them exist from the waist down.

Princeton meets Kate Monster and, after being prodded by the Bad Idea Bears (a deceivingly innocent-looking duo), they pound some cocktails and indulge in some hot puppet jungle lust.

Then there's Trekkis Monster, the Cookie Monster knock-off who's obsessed with Internet porn rather than Oreos. And the aptly-named Lucy T. Slut (Joanna May Hunkins), the local club singer who tries to lure Princeton to her steamy bed.

There's even unrequited love, as uptight Rod and free spirit Nicky (the Bert and Ernie avatars who are roommates) dance around their attraction and affection for each other.

As Princeton, Jesse Markowitz has the innocent young visage that perfectly complements the puppet at the end of his arm. And he is matched by Patty Lohr's Kate Monster, a fuzzy but adorable gal who just wants to start a school for monsters.

As on Sesame Street, there are some people who are just people, and Cameron Dashiell turns in a nice portrayal of Gary Coleman (yes, that one), who's a down-on-his-luck landlord. Also playing a human is Cindy Chang as the Japanese woman Christmas Eve. Her song "The More You Ruv Someone" is a crystalline gem, although her accent gets in the way of some of her dialog.

Todd Hancock is a guttural delight as Trekkie, and the Bad Idea Bears, animated by Michelle Berkowitz and Zachary J. Lamb, are a total hoot. Whether they're pushing drinks or encouraging suicide, these cuddly creatures are pure unleashed id.

However, the featured duo of Rod and Nicky never quite catches hold. John Paul Boukis pushes so hard on the repressed character of Rod that it almost collapses, while Sean Szaller opts for a rather neutral take on Nicky.

But without exception, the performers handle their puppeteer duties with style. And the puppets themselves, designed and created by Borski and costume designer Terry Pieritz, are humorous and weirdly evocative.

Even with some ideas that have been made obsolete — what's a mix tape again? — most of the jokes resonate as well as ever. By the end, you'll wish you could find a flat on Avenue Q.

IN MEMORIAM: Paul Gurgol, the immensely gifted director who was supposed to have directed Avenue Q, died just after he cast the show last March. His productions, at Kalliope Stage and elsewhere, were energetic and innovative. Indeed, his stunning 2006 production of Cabaret, with frequent collaborator John Paul Boukis as the depraved Emcee, still provides goose bumps. Mr. Gurgol's unique talent will be sorely missed and long remembered.

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