Writer discusses the political satire of recent show, Urinetown

By Bette Scher || Contributing Writer

On first glance, Urinetown (produced by F&M Players) might be exactly what it sounds like. To preface the odd, and maybe even unsettling, subject matter, the show’s directors, Alec Hersch, Will Kay, and Cheyenne Hughes warn their audience, not hesitating in calling it “vulgar” and “tasteless.” And in many ways, it is. What could a first-time viewer expect out of a musical parading its title like a glittering sash? Perhaps we could expect to laugh, escape insurmountable amounts of work and reading. Perhaps we could expect to cringe at the slapstick use of “urine” as the musical’s main point of focus. What a first-time viewer could not possibly anticipate was the explosion of Urinetown as a modern “anti-musicial,” an art piece with untraditional structure and satirical content, a musical becoming painfully relevant in the politicized world we live in today.

Urinetown, as it is presented to its audience, is about a town in which private toilets are obsolete and people are forced to pay to use public amenities. A twenty-year long drought caused devastating levels of water damage, water damage to such a level that private toilets become a luxury that the town’s ecosystem cannot afford. “Urine Good Company” or UGC, spearheaded by CEO Caldwell B. Cladwell (played by the incredibly talented Dina Spyropolous) has decided to upsurge the prices of the public amenities to pay for a trip to Rio, as well as pay off the bribes to the public legislature, who has served UGC’s political and economic interests.

The price hike is interceded by heroic and dashing, Bobby Strong (played by first-year and talent Adney Silva), whose father was banished to the illustrious and doom-filled “Urinetown” for not being able to afford the increased prices. Bobby’s grief over the loss of his father is transformed into a blossoming love between him and Cladwell’s daughter, Hope, who encourages him to “follow his heart.” Ultimately, the emerging relationship between Hope and Bobby, as well as the increasing pressure on public amenities, causes a larger uprising against UGC and larger structures of oppressive power.

Much like how Cladwell and the rest of Urine Good Company appreciate the costs of public amenities in order to make a larger profit, Urinetown satirizes on structures of big American business and unfeeling CEOs. Urinetown also highlights the revolving door between Wall Street and Washington D.C through political complicity.In this, Urinetown uses political satire to force the audience to participate in an uncomfortable, unsettling truth–that urine, although crude, can come to represent an oppressed people, a culture of desperation, and unsympathetic mega-corporations capitalizing on the poverty of its citizens.

As tensions between the rich and the poor peaked, a revolutionary fight for the “privilege to pee” ensued. In a particularly compelling number in Act 1 (“Don’t Be the Bunny”), Cladwell is informed of the rising rebellion from authoritarian and public amenity controller, Mrs. Pennywise. In lecturing her daughter, Hope, Cladwell, by way of music and many metaphors, tells Hope that it is the duty of the rich to stomp on the poor. In order to survive, someone will “be the bunny,” better that it is the poor, who is more often than not perceived as dispensable objects in Urinetown than those controlling the wealth. In this, Cladwell and her band of ominous agents represent oppressive structures in society seeking to exploit marginalized peoples.

Unfortunately, themes of political and economic exploitation rings as socially relevant. In times like these, economic equality is so perennial that there seems to be a vast conspiracy of a ruling class, much like the goons in Urinetown. As the country is now facing an indefinite shutdown of its government, a presidential administration speculatively operating in collusion with Vladmir Putin and the Russian government, and rising domestic tensions, Urinetown becomes a satirical work very much alive in the present.

Bette Scher is a contributing writer, her email is bscher@fandm.edu

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