Urinetown: The Musical
UNC Pauper Players
Through May 12
When it comes to musicals and all things theatrical, taking a whiz, piss or whee is typically a taboo subject. But the quirky off-Broadway musical Urinetown brings the act of elimination straight out of the WC and onto center stage. Based around the saga of a Gotham-esque city where citizens must pay to pee due to a town water shortage, Urinetown takes a crack at big-budget corporations and small-town politics in one giant flush. But if that's not taboo enough, then consider this: Urinetown is not only a play that breaks down the barriers of privacy and government, it's a cheeky drama that pokes fun at the medium of musical theater itself.
Here is where the UNC Pauper Players have the most fun with Urinetown's divine satirical humor. Solid dance numbers and shining musical solos are peppered with over-the-top acting that rings out with Brechtian bombast. Carter Lynch plays up the suave brilliance of the headstrong hero Bobby Strong with pizzazz, and a wide-eyed Catie Curtis matches him with a perfect heart-of-gold performance as Hope Caldwell. Comic relief comes in the form of Kaitlin Houlditch, who gives a dead-on performance as the graying curmudgeon Josephine Strong. In Urinetown, not only are the players aware of themselves as stock characters, they're also aware of the audience's reaction to these characters. It's a joke we're all in on, and although the jokes are tried and true, the laughs are guaranteed. —Kathy Justice
North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theater
Through May 13
Producing theater on a shoestring is a daunting challenge, and in the case of North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theater's production of Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio, the company's reach too far exceeds its grasp. This by no means condemns it outright: John Broderick Jones does a solid job as inflammatory radio host Barry Champlain, despite being too young for the role. He holds court with a strong voice and a good sense of Barry's inclination toward perversity. The biggest problem is the cast's voiceover work. Obviously bound by necessity, the supporting cast members each portray different callers into Barry's show. Perhaps hoping to disguise their voices, the cast resorts to accents, almost all of which are jarring and unconvincing.
The unfortunate thing about this is that it detracts hugely from the intensity of the play, which is tightly constructed and contains wonderfully creative and vitriolic rants. The stakes never seem high at all, and the audience is sadly left with a lot of dead air. —Jack McDonald
The Gratitude of Wasps
Deep Dish Theater Company
Through May 19
The Gratitude of Wasps is the first world-premiere production from Chapel Hill's Deep Dish Theater Company. The script, by playwright and Indy contributor Adam Sobsey, is billed as a "comic drama" and boasts a perfect setup for either tears or laughter: The Vacation Gone Bad.
Over a day and night, five friends (two married couples and the 17-year-old daughter of a third, never-seen couple) drink, reminisce and intellectualize about cosmic issues and petty resentments, and reveal their flaws and resilience. Moment by moment, the talk is witty and engaging, but the play tackles so many themes, and gives them such equal treatment, that its central message gets lost.
The production's chief assets are Paul Frellick's surefooted direction and the ensemble acting of the five-person cast, particularly Jeri Lynn Schulke's tightly wound but goodhearted wife and Julla Yarwood's conflicted teen. The Gratitude of Wasps doesn't quite equal the sum of its parts, but those parts offer entertainment enough. —V. Cullum Rogers