Toilet humor meets political satire in “Urinetown”

Courtesy of VCUarts
Courtesy of VCUarts
Courtesy of VCUarts
Courtesy of VCUarts

How do you combine political theory, large scale revolution, musical theater and urine? TheatreVCU is trying to accomplish this with “Urinetown,” in production at the W.E. Singleton Center until May 1.

TheatreVCU assistant professor James Stover is directing the production with a cast comprised of VCU undergraduate and graduate students. Stover was brought on as a director for his first time, which he was more than willing to take on.

“(Urinetown) is a lot of fun,” Stover said. “It definitely makes a political statement and is about very relevant social issues without it seeming like it’s preaching at you, because it’s done in a fun, lively context.”

The play tells the story of a town where the bathrooms are controlled by mega corporations after a massive drought hits the area. “Urinetown” addresses subjects like the dangers of capitalism and corporate mismanagement, but with a comedic edge throughout.

The two main characters are everyman Bobby Strong, played by junior Tyler Fauntleroy and corporate daughter Hope Caldwell, played by sophomore Isabella Stansbury. Both students agreed one of the biggest challenges with the roles was being comedic while also not playing into cliches or over acting.

“Hope is a stereotypical ‘ingenue’ (innocent, wholesome, young female character),” Stansbury said. “But that’s not what James (Stover) wanted… so taking the character through a journey throughout the show and giving them substance has been a good challenge.”

Fauntleroy said that he was excited to step out of realism, as it adds depth to the performance they couldn’t achieve with the restrictions that come with it.

“The fact that we live in a heightened world provides a fun challenge in still being believable but honest in this world,” Fauntleroy said.

This “heightened world” is a staple of many productions of “Urinetown,” with the sets designed to look like graphic novel panels. Scenic designer Grenville Burgess is the man in charge of this task, and said he wanted to do justice to the show’s comedic style.

“You want to pay credence to the research material without it getting in the way of the story,” Burgess said. “We made sure there were hard outlines in the scenic elements and to keep the pop-up feel of graphic novels in the design without it taking away focus from the story.”

Another important player in this production is TheaterVCU junior James Russell, who plays the role of Caldwell B. Cladwell, the main antagonist of the story. Cladwell runs the corporation that charges residents for bathroom use.

Russell said he is excited to not only play this character, but also to perform a script that seems to be modern in terms of political statements.

“For something that came out in 2001, it was ahead of its time,” Russell said. “All these big movements that have happened in the 2000s were foreshadowed by this play.”

Although the script deals with some heavy subjects, Russell wanted to assure the audience there’s a fair amount of comedy throughout the script.

“It’s like a political cartoon,” said Russell. “We’re watching people literally revolting because they can’t pee, but it’s all metaphors for revolting in general.”

Junior Dylan Bartoe, the master electrician of “Urinetown,” has the job of ensuring every type of lighting or effect for the show requires works properly.

While this is his first time holding this position, Bartoe said he sees this as a fun opportunity to expand his skills in technical theater.

“Musicals are a lot more intense than your standard play, they’re a lot flashier and require more complex lightning material to deal with,” Bartoe said. “It’s kind of a big thing to get thrown into for my first job of this caliber, but it’s been exciting and a great opportunity.”

Tickets can be purchased online or at the box office at the W.E. Singleton Center at 922 Park Ave., with discounted tickets available for students.

Samuel Goodrich, Contributing Writer

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