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Fringe '99— It's my penis and I'll cry if I want to

At least All-Male Lives of Y2 Gay— The Musical introduced a talented troupe of singers concerned about the gay community's future. With charmingly amusing lyrics and pleasant voices, the handsome cast share their ideas on everything from the importance of coming out to one's parents to the muscle-man craziness of Eighth Avenue. If only their friendly fraternity were more diverse (come on, eight Banana Republic­clad white boys!) and didn't skirt around AIDS so much, perhaps their hopeful message would have carried more weight. But their audience (mainly older versions of themselves) lapped it up like a steroid drink in Chelsea.

Urinetown! (The Musical) didn't seem like my cup of tea, but after Clowning the Bible (a crash course from Creation to Crucifixion by an earnest, red-nosed ensemble) and the faltering Reverend Billy (Bill Talen) in The Church of Stop Shopping, I was ready to go to the devil. The piece, which turned out to be one of the imaginative high points in my Festival junket, takes place in a city where private toilets have been outlawed and the poor must beg for spare change to pee at the corporate-owned public amenity. Bobby (Wilson Hall), a fed-up custodian, leads a movement against Boss Cladwell (Adam Grant), the profiteering president of Urine Good Company, for the right of free urination. The sudden uprising (call it Rebellion Number One) forces the naive idealist Hope Cladwell (Louise Rozett) to choose between the boyfriend she loves and the father who showers her with free flushes.

The musical, written by Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann, casts its droplets of political thought into the most playfully theatrical terms. Though the lyrics and comic exchanges are unflaggingly inventive, the farcically convoluted book lacks the Brechtian sharpness and command otherwise evident throughout the production. With so much audacious cleverness on tap, it's hard not to wish for better plumbing from the plot.

Urinetown!: Mind your pee and queues.
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Urinetown!: Mind your pee and queues.

Director Joseph P. McDonnell's raucous cast features the hilarious Carol Hickey as the busty chief custodian of the pauper's urinal, who brings the house down with her belting rendition of "Privilege to Pee." Jay Rhoderick, who plays the patrolling police officer, and Spencer Kayden, as the precocious little roller skating girl, make a winning Greek chorus­like combination, not only ironically commenting on the action but making frequent cracks about the godawful title.

As I neared the end of my Fringe binge, it became clear how much the event relies on its audience to enter into the appropriate wacky mindset. The thought actually occurred to me during Right On, America!, a political cabaret about our country's growing indifference performed by yet another all-white ensemble. Though their satirizing point of view often hit the mark, the group failed to earn my comic complicity. I listened with a smile, but never quite made it to a laugh. Maybe it was the subliminal hypocrisy or perhaps just a case of theatrical overload. That's the other important thing about attending the Festival: knowing when enough is really enough.

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