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Urinetown: Student-produced satire comes to Washington Hall

Scene Staff Reports | Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The St. Edward’s Hall Players bring the subversive Broadway hit “Urinetown” to Washington Hall today and Thursday. Tickets for the 7 p.m. shows are $5 for students, $7 for the general public and are available the LaFortune box office or at the door.

A few members of the cast and crew talked to The Observer about the searing, satirical show and the work that went into putting it together.

From the cast:

Tricia Coburn, freshman
“Hope Cladwell,” the daughter of the evil, miserly CEO of Urine Good Company. She falls in love with Bobby against her father’s wishes.

Will Docimo, sophomore
“Bobby Strong,” the Everyman hero who both leads the revolution against the pay toilet system, falling in love with Hope along the way.

Ellyn Michalak, senior
“Little Sally,” as the play’s precocious quasi-narrator, along with Officer Lockstock.

Brian Rodgers, freshman
“Officer Lockstock,” the corrupt cop who is the other half of the narrating team.

From the crew:

John Kemnetz, freshman
Musical director

Claire Conley, sophomore
Stage manager

So, what exactly is “Urinetown”?

Docimo: The name is pretty self-explanatory. It takes place in the not-too-distant future, in which people’s natural need to urinate is exploited for profit. It’s really quite a solid business model.

Kemnetz: “Urinetown” takes the audience into a dystopian world where a 20-year drought has caused all bathrooms to become privatized, and everyone must pay to pee.
While most of the poor manage to scrounge together the pennies they need for their daily trip to the toilet, there is the occasional unfortunate soul who ends up having to relieve him or herself elsewhere — a serious crime resulting in the convicted being sent to a mysterious place called Urinetown from whence they never return.

The show begins with [Bobby Strong’s] father being carted off to Urinetown for peeing outside the bathroom … [Bobby responds] by taking over the amenity and giving free access to all the poor. With his revolution in motion, Bobby captures the daughter of the CEO of Urine Good Company, the evil, money-hungry corporation that has control over all the bathrooms, and an all out battle between the poor and the UGC erupts.

Conley: “Urinetown” is a dark comedy that is a combination of musical theater, parody and political satire. These people live in a world of regulations that they see as unjust, and so [they] eliminate them, not realizing that the regulations are what holds their precariously balanced world together. There are many themes that can be pulled from it, based on what you personally see in the show: political, environmental and social issues are all present.

Kemnetz: It was first shown at the New York International Fringe Festival and was soon produced as an off-Broadway show before taking the Broadway stage in September of 2001. The show ran for just over three years and toured briefly.

It’s been met by audiences with mixed reviews. In particular, grandmothers and businessmen have found the show particularly offensive or vulgar, while teenagers/college kids tend to find the pee jokes and awkward humor funny. I know, right? College kids and grandmas not having the same sense of humor? Must be a weird show.

What has been the most challenging or rewarding aspect of your role or job?

Coburn: The most rewarding yet difficult aspect of the production process in portraying the role of Hope has been finding the right balance for the character. Hope is a very naive, optimistic and straightforward character and it is sometimes hard to find the right balance as she develops throughout the show.

Rodgers: I feel the most frustrating aspect in the portrayal of Lockstock is that he is radically different in his interactions with each … After working with the directors as well as reading the script over and over again, I felt I finally got a good handle on who Lockstock is and what he wants, which is the most rewarding aspect to me.

Michalak: The most difficult aspect about playing Little Sally is that she both breaks the fourth wall as well as participates largely in the ensemble, so she has a lot of responsibility in the show.

Conley: As stage manager, a big part of my job is not only the wrangling of the cast, but also being a liaison between different people involved in the production. Cast, lighting, sound, props will all come to me with questions which I’ll have to field or connect them with the right person.

It takes a lot of time and energy, but seeing all these ideas come together in this artistic effort has been really rewarding. That’s the best part — seeing the finished product, and knowing that I helped make that happen.

Kemnetz: The most frustrating aspect of this show was the fact that everyone involved is a Notre Dame student. That means they’re not just actors, instrumentalists or crew members — they’re athletes and singers and so many other things. And, being good at all of these things, they’re pulled in many directions, which can make scheduling and working with the full cast a big struggle.

This show is known for its ridiculous premise, the satirical commentary and its parody of the stereotypical Broadway musical. How did you approach these aspects while still trying to put together the musical and technical aspects?

Michalak: Since “Urinetown” is supposed to be both satirical and comical, every action, every line, every song, has to be done over the top. We definitely spent a lot of time learning how to act as caricatures, always making our actions bigger, louder and more comical.

Coburn: There are many points in the show where we all have to do outrageous things that force us to step out of our comfort zones. In these cases, being comfortable with everyone has been critical in being able to overcome any self-consciousness.
Rodgers: I went in knowing that in this show, we had to be funny but with a purpose — this is not your typical run of the mill comedy and as a result there was a slight degree of seriousness.

Docimo: I was unaware that “Urinetown” was satire. I just assumed it was a realistic forecast for the future of Nevada. This changes everything.