Urinetown and More Weekend Theater Reviews

Urinetown (Photo by Michael Lamont)

Part political cartoon, part faux folk tale, Mark Hollman and Greg Kotis’ gloriously irreverent hit Broadway musical delivers a hilarious doomsday scenario. In an unnamed city, the water supply is exhausted, private toilets are outlawed and collective latrines — called Public Amenities — have been instituted on a punitive pay-as-you-go basis. Cue song: “It’s a Privilege to Pee!” Businessman Caldwell B. Cladwell (John Rubinstein) has grown rich by persuading a corrupt legislature to award control of the Amenities to his company UGC (Urine Good Company). Young Bobby Strong (John Hemphill) leads The Poor in an insurrection against The Rich and their extortionate fees — but he’s also fallen in love with Cladwell’s daughter Hope (Kelly Lohnman). Soon, the sappily idealistic poor prove as disastrously misguided as the greedy rich, and the ending is uncompromising: “Urinetown is your town!” Like a crazed Brecht-Weill Lehrstücke, the piece dispenses its satire with a rigorously even hand. Director Calvin Remsberg keeps the touch light, and the ambiance zany. Tracy Powell’s frenetic choreography is all in the service of a production that sends itself up with metatheatrical glee. The score effectively evokes The Threepenny Opera, with forays into other genres including good-time gospel. Interact Theatre Company at the Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., L.A.; Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 3 p.m.; thru Nov. 11. (818) 765-8732.

—Neal Weaver

THE PLAYGROUND With echoes of Rent,writer-director Michael Justen’s urban rock drama follows a group of homeless youths as they struggle to make it on the streets of Los Angeles. More of an MTV-era collage of street life than a meaningful examination of it, the show begins with one of the runaways aggressively panhandling the audience (front-row dwellers, be warned). In the next scene, the cast is scattered across the stage in a dramatic snapshot of runaway life. From there, with the aid of rock music and gritty video clips, the characters’ stories unfold. The complex plot includes pregnancy, rape, molestation, prostitution, homosexuality, infidelity, drug overdose, suicide and more. This too-massive undertaking leaves many components of the story underdeveloped. Still, the show is visually pleasing. Aaron Gaffey’s set is a striking montage of graffitied staircases, chainlink fences and dirty pavement. And director Justen’s production includes some beautiful singing and impressive breakdancing. An 11:11 Experiment at the UNKNOWN THEATER, 1110 N. Seward St., Hlywd.; Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.; thru Sept. 30. (323) 466-7781. (Stephanie Lysaght)

GO RABBIT HOLE Through streams of taut, colloquial dialogue, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Tony Award–nominated play unwaveringly scrutinizes the emotional layers of grief, of coping with despondency. If this were music, it would be like variations on a theme. Precocious Izzy (Missy Yager) tells her older sister Becca (Amy Ryan) about how she slugged a woman in a bar. Slowly the truth slips out of Izzy, that she was sleeping with the woman’s boyfriend, and now Izzy is pregnant. This comes on the heels of Becca having lost her 4-year-old son in a car accident, after the boy chased the family dog into the street: One child gone; another on the way. Such is life. Now, what do we do with it? Will Becca’s marriage to Howie (Tate Donovan) survive? Is it better to hide all evidence of the late child, or to fill the home — no, it’s not home anymore, but a house — with reminders? Husband and wife have completely contrary ways of interacting with the teenage driver (a particularly sensitive portrayal by Trever O’Brien) who struck the child and is now consumed by remorse. Meanwhile, Ryan’s performance reveals the quiet, penetrating agony of a life now fueled by rage and despair. Also, Joyce Van Patten has a nice turn as the sisters’ nutty mother. The play shrinks somewhat inside Alexander Dodge’s lavishly ornamented two-tier set, so that this play of grand emotions feels stuffed inside a soap opera. Carolyn Cantor directs. GEFFEN PLAYHOUSE, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Wstwd.; Tues.-Thurs., 7:30 p.m.; Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 4 & 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 2 & 7 p.m.; thru Oct. 22. (310) 208-5454. (Steven Leigh Morris)

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