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

Porno Death Cult at the Firehall, Take 2

My fellow attendee and guest reviewer has his interesting review here. But as with Hirsch, this is a work that demands further consideration.

We are warned of the water haze when we get the programme. And the theatre set is indeed hazy as you walk in to claim your seat. The work begins with some music that I am hardpressed to describe, but gave the impression of marching and motion. An arch is set up at back center stage, with a collection of interesting paintings and images. As the work starts, a spotlight beams down from above on what could possibly be stained glass, evoking a cathedral. The imagery was not necessarily sacred; there were some skulls among the paintings. But the effect was unsettling, a bit creepy, and it definitely served the purpose of taking the viewer to a different world. Continue reading

Porno Death Cult at the Firehall (Guest Review, March 5, 2014)

Porno Death Cult at the Firehall (Guest Review, March 5, 2014)

Struggling with, and tormented by, her religious beliefs, a middle-aged Irish woman experiments with several spiritual ideas in order to free herself from her own guilt and, presumably, lack of sexuality.

Porno Death Cult delves into the cultish behaviour of religion, spirituality and holistic practices. Absent however were the “Porno” and “Death” though the performance’s provocative title is a splendid marketing technique that, undoubtedly, assisted in a Sold Out opening night. Continue reading

Chutzpah Festival, Vancouver 2014

Chutzpah Festival, Vancouver 2014

(Thanks to, the Chutzpah Festival, and Firehall Arts Centre, I will be seeing several Chutzpah Festival productions. I’m looking forward to reviewing them!)

The Chutzpah Festival, going strong after 14 years, brings a thrilling program of dance, comedy, music, and theatre to Vancouver from February 22 to March 9. I am particularly excited by the musical offerings, which you can see here. A really diverse array of countries and styles are represented. Although groups like Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis and Yemen Blues call on their Iraqi and Yemeni roots, respectively, their styles are strikingly contemporary and unbound by tradition.

I am particularly looking forward to Tiny Music, which I saw in a staged reading format last year. The musical side has been intensively developed since then, based on the description, and I am looking forward to this “sound design musical”.

Hirsch has been a Fringe Festival hit across the ocean, and I have high expectations for this biopic of the Hungarian-Canadian Holocaust survivor who became one of Canada’s foremost theatre artists.

The dance and comedy offerings look superlative too, but I will leave those for another day.

Dudu Tassa & The Kuwaitis:

What’s happening around town? Some tips to find out

If you live in Vancouver, you can find interesting events and gatherings any day of the week. If you are on a shoestring budget, you can frequently find free and low-cost events. Art openings, wine tastings, theatre productions, concerts in any genre you can think of, readings, multimedia mashups, films, lectures, comedy; very quickly you will realize you need extensive multi-presence abilities to take in a fraction of what Vancouver has on offer.

Yes, keeping up in any meaningful sense can be overwhelming, because there is so much happening. So don’t try. Rest assured you will indeed miss dozens of high-quality, life-changing events because you forgot to look at Twitter one day. Luckily, though, the pipeline of upcoming events is crammed, so you’ll soon have the opportunity for more even if you just missed the best thing ever.

I recommend these methods for keeping up, or at least getting a sense of what’s happening.


Vancouver has many social media bloggers who focus on keeping up with events, and they tweet a lot too. Use their work. I follow numerous Vancouver people, places, and companies on my @Beyond_YVR Twitter account. Just click on “Following” (I can’t link directly), and start following the ones that interest you. For starters, take a look at @Miss604, @VancouverScape, and @VIAwesome.

Georgia Straight

This weekly newspaper is a tried-and-true lister of events. Although some events don’t make it here, some huge percentage do. You will never run out of things to do if you limit yourself to @GeorgiaStraight. I prefer reading the paper copy (anachronistic, I know), but you can find music, arts, theatre, literary, and other events online too. Oh, and I usually like the articles too.

Some great web sites

These overlap with the Twitter accounts, but both provide good information. I’m sure to forget some, and there’s no way to make an exhaustive list. But do not neglect these.

It goes without saying that all of these sites, plus many more, have Facebook pages too. So Like those pages.

I attempted to use Facebook to make a list of interesting Vancouver-related Facebook pages. However, I fell behind a couple hundred pages ago. But take a look: Vancouver Culture, Food, Fun.

Don’t get tied up in knots about making the optimal choice on any given night. You can never know for sure. Just do something!