Music by Mark Hollmann
Book by Greg Kotis
Lyrics by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis
Directed and Choreographed by Kevin Bellie
Music Direction by Peter J. Storms
At Circle Theatre, Oak Park
Perhaps Brechtian is a bit strong, but…
Urinetown is a hyper-self-aware satire in which the fourth wall is very much like a politician’s integrity: it only exists when it chooses to. The play takes place place in a dystopian future where a drought has forced private restrooms into extinction and all must pay to use the public ones. Naturally a capitalist has found a way to make absurd amounts of money by owning all of the toilets in the whole city. The premise is patently absurd – which the musical admits several times over. It ends up being a sort of socialist, absurdist comedy; so, there are some parallels with Brecht. That said, it lacks the deep incisiveness of Brecht (though that can hardly be called a deadly blow: after all, there are exceedingly few who possess it). And it is, indeed, plenty satirical.
The story itself centers on young Bobby Strong (Creg Sclavi), whose father is taken away to Urinetown for the crime of public urination, and the girl Hope (Laura Savage), the daughter of the capitalist Caldwell B. Cladwell, who, after a chance meeting, fall hopelessly in love. So there is the classic inherent conflict of “Proletariat boy falls for capitalist girl whose father is the oppressor of the People.” We’ve all read Gorky, so this isn’t anything new, right? Anyway, after meeting Hope (yes, the metaphor is hopelessly obvious), Bobby decides to be an agitator, allowing the people of his precinct to use the bathroom for free. This lands him in some hot water (no pun intended) with Cladwell, who marches down there with some police force to force Bobby to stop. However, Bobby takes Hope hostage (yes, yes, I know) and he and his followers fly into the sewers for escape. And then comes Act II.
The whole thing is basically agitprop saying that capitalism doesn’t work, but living on nothing but hope and optimism without any pragmatism brings tragedy, as well. The story is absurd but enjoyable, the music a good companion to the book. And Circle presents it well: the costumes are classic dystopian motley, the set simple yet effective with lots of detail, and the actors and musicians are all strong. The two leads are great; the back-and-forth between Little Sally and Officer Lockstock (Brooke Sherrod Jaeky and Clay Sanderson) is very fun; and several other members of the ensemble do outstanding jobs – but every single member of the cast is enjoyable.
The only issue is one that has plagued Circle for some time now, and that was the sound. Occasionally the mics just weren’t at the proper levels, and once or twice there was bad cross-phasing. This is really unfortunate, as there’s really no reason for it. But as I said, everything else is very strong, and although the sound problems are annoying, they are not prohibitive. This is a solid production of a fun show.
Reviewed on 9.14.11
For full show information, visit TheatreinChicago.
At Circle Theatre, 1010 Madison St., Oak Park, IL; call 708-660-9540 ; tickets $22-26; performances Friday & Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm; running time 2 hours 15 minutes with one intermission; through Oct. 23.