Review: Urinetown (Firehall, until November 29)

The Firehall’s production of Urinetown is fantastic–go see it! The music, the acting, the spirit, the venue–all combine to make a most enjoyable and thought-provoking evening.

The Firehall is an ideal venue for this show. The set, combined with the Firehall’s natural ambiance, captures the spirit of a New York Lower East Side tenement (pre-gentrification). Urinetown is perhaps set in a dystopian future, but we know the future can look disconcertingly like the past.

The musical’s author, Greg Kotis, was inspired by a low-budget trip to Europe where public toilets require payment, thereby impinging on his meagre food allowance. But public toilets for pay at prices people might not easily pay are a real phenomenon. The 3 pesos (25 cents or so) that a WC costs per use in the centre of Mexico City may seem trivial to a tourist, but it adds up for a low-income person  who is marginally employed if at all. The lack of toilets is a huge issue in India, with many sexual assaults and murders of women linked to the fact that they have no secure facilities to use. Not to mention the difficulties for homeless people right in the vicinity of the FIrehall itself.

“It’s a privilege to pee.” There’s a funny scene where our unreliable narrator, a police officer in charge of the enforcement of this pay-to-pee law, explains to the ingenue Miss Sally that the play will focus on one thing only for the sake of the audience, and not water usage in respect to hydraulics and irrigation. But back in our own very real society, we can look at the whole picture, and realize that we accept that in our world the most basic of human needs, food and shelter and sanitary facilities, are privileges and not rights. Not that Urinetown is an uncritical socialist screed–while entertaining us it also considers a world where no effort is made to shepherd or manage resources.

Andrew Wheeler is once again very good at a satirical portrayal of an officious white guy in a position of authority (he last played Stephen Harper in the satirical play Proud, also staged at the Firehall). Our narrator, played by David Adams as Officer Lockstock, is a likeable face of terror and oppression and, incidentally, information. Afterwards, I heard someone praising the comic timing of the choreography; indeed, the choreographer Tara Cheyenne Friedenberg has previously demonstrated her talent at combining comedy and dance.  I enjoyed all of the performances; this is a very talented lot of singers and dancers and actors with a great combination of talents.


Not from Urinetown, but I am inspired to share these links, at least tangentially related.

“We can live without Facebook, we can live without smartphones. But we cannot live without relieving ourselves.” Swapnil Chaturvedi (proudly known as “Poop Guy”) who cleans and provides toilets in India.

“2.5 billion people do not have access to a clean and safe toilet.” – World Toilet Day

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. – Anatole France

Fort Lauderdale Charges 90-Year-Old, Two Pastors for Feeding Homeless

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