Remember that bad drought we were in a few years ago? The lakes dried up, the media promoted the “if it’s yellow” mantra, people were busted for lawn-watering, middle-aged women were spied doing rain dances late at night, and the government started handing out credits for low-flow toilets. Take that scenario to the power of 100, and you have the set-up for Urinetown: The Musical. There is so little water that private toilets have been banned. So has peeing behind a tree. Elimination is allowed only in the public amenities, which are not free—nor publicly run. Owned by an evil charming man and his corporation, the “amenities” are so costly that the people are always in need of a pee. Those who can’t pay are hauled off to Urinetown and summarily executed.
I know this sounds dreary, but it is actually smart and sassy, biting in a Brechtian sort of way that asserts the need for social change and an unquenchable belief that it can be made to occur. The two-act musical (Greg Kotis and Mark Holloman), as staged by PlayMakers Repertory Company’s Summer Youth Conservatory (through July 22 in the Paul Green Theater), offers both light relief and something sweeter—a renewed hopefulness. These kids could be the ones to slay the corporate dragons and their despicable corrupt legislative minions.
“These kids” are the talented Chapel Hill-area middle-and high-school students attending the fifth annual Summer Youth Conservatory, where they work with PRC’s professionals in all areas of creating stage productions. This year’s intensive is culminating this weekend with the boisterous Urinetown, cast of 25, some of whom look like they are on their ways to the UNC School of the Arts.
The SYC is a marvelous program, the kind of thing that makes one feel better about the state university that’s been dragging itself through the mud tracked in by “student-athletes” and their enablers. Five years ago, the SYC made its tentative beginnings in collaboration with the Carrboro ArtsCenter, and now the program has gathered support and moved to the PRC’s well-equipped facilities in the UNC Center for Dramatic Art.
50 years ago, its predecessor was in full swing as a residential program for stage-struck high-schoolers from around the state. Run by John Parker at that time, it was called Junior Playmakers, and was my introduction to The Playmakers and its theater (now called the Historic Playmakers Theater) with the corn on its Corinthian columns. My aunt came for it, living in Old East, running back and forth across the street to the theater, and spreading the theater contagion to her niece with her zest for the whole enterprise. Her group performed Eudora Welty’s The Ponder Heart. I am willing to bet that all of the Junior Playmakers remember their experience as vividly as my aunt.
The SYC does not include a residential component, but it does offer an almost matchless opportunity for young theater artists to test and strengthen their skills. From an audience point of view, the SYC provides a high-energy theater experience in what otherwise might be the doldrums of summer. The SYC is the kind of community work, and Urinetown: The Musical the kind of play that would make Paul Green proud. Besides that, it will make you laugh out loud.