Autzen Stadium wasn’t the only place in town serving up a river of public urination this past weekend. Thankfully, Actors Cabaret of Eugene opened its summer doors to those of us who prefer their potty talk to be metaphorical rather than pasted to the bottom of 10-dollar beer-covered cowboy boots.
And although the “wee-wee” inspired cocktails were a little off-putting, I found the sardonic and self-referential Urinetown: The Musical to be preferable to reliving my Garth Brooks days as a bartender in the Deep South.
Born out of a penniless, bladder-heavy desperation in a pay-to-pee bougie Paris neighborhood, writer Greg Kotis, along with music man Mark Hallman, created the ludicrous (but is it?) musical, where urination fuels a profitable industry.
Absurd and cynical, Urinetown is your typical post-apocalyptic world 20 years into a drought: There’s the soot-covered faces of rag-worn urbanites at odds with the slick suits in power; the songs of revolution, forbidden love, the pie-in-the-sky dreams of a better world. It’s all very familiar. I half expected ACE to give us a futuristic, Mad Max-like Urinetown, but the result remains close to the page.
The earnest direction by Michael P. Watkins is pretty dark — the accusingly pointed fingers, snarky stink-eyes aimed at the audience, the uncomfortable reminder that we all are a part of the problem. Sure, piss jokes are funny, as is the hyper-parody of all musicals with disenfranchised peoples, but the exposition, exploitation and the expiration of the ticking doomsday clock weigh heavy in between knee-slaps.
Depravation always has the same look, doesn’t it?
Despite its heroes and villains, Urinetown is absent of any one main protagonist. Naturally, some key players were having a better opening night than others. Cody Mendonca performs an energetic balancing act between cynicism and slapstick as the nightstick-wielding Officer Lockstock. Savana Johnson is a fan favorite as the plucky, ponytailed rag doll, Little Sally. Chad Lowe flexes a modest set of pipes as the virtuous everyman Bobby Strong, and Scott Machado is your typical smirking corporate scumbag, Caldwell B. Caldwell (or is he?).
In addition to the hard-hitting Malthusian dread and capitalism criticism, Urinetown is super meta! The music and dialogue are constantly calling attention to itself, reminding the audience through extremely literal references and allegorical tropes that you are watching a completely made up scenario (or is it?).
The entire score is a hilarious rip-off of dusty musicals. “Cop Song,” the dark duet the between Lockstock and Officer Barrell (Joel Ibanez), is a pattycake thumper of a Threepenny Opera song, as well as the highlight of Act I.
The excessive and erratic finger snapping of “Snuff That Girl” is pure West Side Story cheese, while the gospely “Run, Freedom, Run” (get it, Chad Lowe!) is like the 11th-hour morale boost of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” Watkins’ keen lead along with Anthony Krall’s artistic direction really shines in these later numbers.
Excremental entertainment aside, I think my favorite thing about Urinetown is the inherent defeatist yet honest view of things. Overpopulation, lack of resources — it’s not hard to imagine the thin line between necessity and privilege.
While Malthus’ predictions of Europe’s catastrophic plunge didn’t quite play out as he thought they would, the divide between rich and poor is as plain as the passcodes on pizzeria restrooms.
Urinetown doesn’t give us any clear answers to society’s problems, but rather points its bony finger at the problem itself: There is no them — only us. And ACE’s production offers up no agenda, just the pee-soaked truth.
Urinetown: The Musical runs through July 27 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene; info and tickets at 683-4368.