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It’s never easy in ‘Urinetown,’ but it is hilarious

Subversive Theatre’s scrappy, makeshift Manny Fried Playhouse, housed in the industrial Pierce Arrow Building, is a perfect space for Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis’s “Urinetown: The Musical.” The satirical comedy draws a living comic book rendition of a disastrous scenario being lived out around the country and world today: the privatization of public utilities and the exploitation of the working class who are forced to pay both financially and medically for their right to water. In “Urinetown,” citizens must pay to use public toilets, with rates going up by the day. It’s obscene! It’s grotesque!

It’s hilarious!

Jeffrey Coyle directs with great zeal for Kotis’s brilliant book, one of the strongest comedic musical scripts around. It’s packed with personality, wit and shtick, a recipe for efficiency used by comic book artists and graphic novelists. Everything moves as if on a conveyer belt, and never allows your feet to drag.

Coyle’s directorial work is often clever, even if his acting – here, he also plays the role of Officer Lockstock, our narrator – is less tailored. His comedic performances tip-toe too much into a Borscht Belt soft shoe for my taste. His taste for these bits is better suited with a director’s editorial eye. Choreographer Doug Weyand is a fine match, his musical staging underlining the sincere pathos with mocking melodrama.

Jen Stafford, a formidable leading actress, gets stuck in a ditch in the role of Ms. Pennywise, the homely operator of a public amenity. In any other show, assuming it doesn’t rely on vaudevillian gags, Stafford’s presentation is laced with either anxiousness, or gossipy exaggeration, or sometimes a psychotic-seeming trance. She plays women on the edge, and does so finely. But her go-to accents are not quite aligned with the show’s own idiosyncrasies – a head-scratcher. Many times I wished she would turn the crazy up in order to give Pennywise a space of her own. As it stands, she gets swallowed up too easily.

Erin Coyle is a standout as Hope Cladwell, the doe-eyed-turned-revolutionary daughter of corporate overlord Caldwell B. Cladwell, played with absurdism by Michael Starzynski. Coyle’s transformation is a backbone of consistency in this cast, many of whom are deeply committed to their roles though not fully engaged with the intricacies of the satirical format. Susana Breese and Jennel Pruneda have hilarious turns in the ensemble as well. Ryan Kaminski, as leading man Bobby Strong, is a weak link here: charming but not yet convincing in such a large role.

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