With ‘Urinetown,’ it’s flush hour at StageWorks
UPDATE: Congrats to ticket winners
Christina Wyneken and Stephen Mintz, who each won a pair of tickets to opening weekend.
ORIGINAL POST: When “Urinetown: The Musical” first tinkled onto the scene in the early 2000s, much was made of the outrageous title and subject matter. Today the shock value may have worn off a little. The pee jokes can almost seem like old friends. But the new StageWorks Fresno production (opening Friday, July 20) still has the potential to get you talking and thinking about bodily functions in a way that doesn’t usually happen in the theater.
With that in mind, I arranged for a joint email Q&A interview with two of the important players in “Urinetown.” Jeffrey Lusk (who was in StageWorks’ “The Full Monty” last summer) plays Officer Lockstock, who helps enforce the draconian rules in a drought-stricken society in which people have to pay to use toilets. (If they don’t use the approved amenities, they get hauled off to a mysterious place called Urinetown.) Alyssa Benitez (last seen in Fresno State’s “A Streetcar Named Desire”) plays Little Sally, a streetwise ragamuffin who helps introduce the story.
Warning: Our interview could force you, through sheer power of suggestion, to take a potty break.
DONALD: So, um, “Urinetown.” Before we begin, I’m going to share something with you. Just before sitting down to compose these questions, I — how shall I put this — took a bathroom break. I have done literally thousands of interviews over the decades, and this is the first time I’ve mentioned my recent bathroom — um, toilet — history in any of them. Anyway. My first question to you, Alyssa and Jeff, is this: Has being in “Urinetown” made you think any differently about, well, how much of our lives are centered around urine?
JEFF: Absolutely not. I’ve known for a long a time that we as humans are prisoners to our bodily functions.
ALYSSA: I have certainly become more aware of the amount of time I spend in the bathroom. At rehearsals, whenever we have bathroom breaks, I think about how our characters are deprived of such a basic bodily function. CRAZY.
You can win a pair of tickets to your choice of an opening-weekend performance of “Urinetown: The Musical.” To enter, leave a comment answering this question: What is the fanciest restroom you’ve ever used? (Or, if you’re shy, simply tell us why you’d like to see the show.) Two winners will be selected at random. Deadline to enter is 10 p.m. Thursday, July 19.
DONALD: Moving on. Introduce your characters and tell us how you fit into this “awfully” named musical.
JEFF: Lockstock is the narrator and a driving force in the show. To me, he wears three hats: one as guide for the audience, second as mentor to Little Sally, and third as protector of Urinetown.
ALYSSA: Little Sally is one of the members of the poor community in Urinetown. She is described as a “street urchin” in the script. She also acts as the voice of the audience.
DONALD: You’ve lived in the Valley a long time. Do you recall when people here started worrying about droughts and water? Jeff, did you practice water conservation in your home growing up?
JEFF: I do not recall as much from when I was younger, but I do recognize that it interest in water conservation is cyclical depending on the severity of a given drought. I know with the most recent one I tried to the best of my ability to not waste any water or take it for granted. As they say, “if it’s yellow let it mellow…”
DONALD: Alyssa, have you started taking shorter showers since working on this show?
ALYSSA: I don’t time myself, but I am pretty darn efficient.
DONALD: There’s an undercurrent of menace to “Urinetown” that makes it a sharper-edged experience than if it were just a goofy satire. Not only does it poke fun at capitalism and environmental decay, but it also makes clear that there are winners and losers when resources are scarce. What are your thoughts?
JEFF AND ALYSSA: This show paints a picture of nobody winning, of privileged people taking advantage of scarce resources and then profiting off of the poor, and even about winners of a revolution not considering the consequences of their actions. We think it helps the viewer to put things into perspective.
DONALD: I’ve seen “Urinetown” a bunch of times, and there are two things that have always stuck with me. One is the way it makes fun of Broadway shows that have to explain a whole bunch of stuff to the audience at the beginning to get them up to speed. I always think: “Too much exposition!” Alyssa, do you think this will happen to you in the future?
ALYSSA: I do think that there are many Broadway musicals that are incredibly difficult to follow (ex: “Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812.”). I hope, however, that in the future, Broadway will find a way to make shows more comprehensible, and easy to follow.
DONALD: The other thing that sticks with me is the line about the mythical Urinetown as possibly being like Venice, but with “golden, frothy” canals. In a way, the show completely ruined the idea of Venice for me, because I always think “golden and frothy” and then wrinkle my nose when someone mentions the city. (This even happened once in Vegas when I passed by the Venetian.) Jeff, will your relationship with Venice ever be the same after this role?
JEFF: The only thing that “golden frothy canals” makes me think of is rivers of beer. I do hope to visit Venice some day.
DONALD: OK, time for a couple of nitpicky questions. Why don’t people in “Urinetown” just use low-flow or chemical toilets?
JEFF AND ALYSSA: Then there would be no show, silly Donald.
DONALD: And what is stopping people from just peeing outside? I know this is alluded to in the show, but I’ve never understood how the authorities keep people from breaking the rules. What are your theories?
JEFF AND ALYSSA: Lockstock and Barrel are always watching. Don’t. Even. Try it.
DONALD: Alyssa, I’m going to ask a very gendered question. Do you have any “There’s always a super long line for the women’s restroom” horror stories? What’s the longest you’ve ever had to wait?
ALYSSA: I went to see “Wicked” in Fresno when it came here a few years ago. It was intermission. I had 20 seconds to run to the bathroom before a sea of women would crowd around. I remember literally running to the bathroom to get there before the line started. When I was walking out of the bathroom, there were at least 50 women in line. Suckers.
DONALD: Jeff, your turn for a gendered question. Men have an, um, built-in advantage when it comes to improvising “restroom” arrangements when traditional facilities aren’t available. Where’s the oddest/most embarrassing/most ingenious place you’ve ever had to pee?
JEFF: One time upon heading home to Reedley from Fresno I decided to forego using the facilities thinking that I could make it home. Unfortunately I was almost wrong. Once getting home I determined I would not make it inside so I went in my front yard. About halfway through, a jogger ran by so naturally I stood like a statue doing my best impression of a fountain.
DONALD: Finally, Alyssa and Jeff, what are the toilet facilities like backstage at “Urinetown”? Do people have to put a nickel in a jar every time they make a joke about answering nature’s call?
JEFF AND ALYSSA: Amelie Larsen (who, by the way, is in back-to-back StageWorks productions, first “Fun Home,” then “Urinetown”) makes us pay her a quarter every time we use the bathroom. It’s in her contract.
“Urinetown,” opens 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 20, Dan Pessano Theatre in the Clovis North performing arts center, 2770 E. International Ave. Rated PG for adult content. Tickets are $28 general, $25 students and seniors.