Saturday, August 27, 2011

Yeast Nation: Oh Noooo My Jelly

I never saw Urinetown.  I feel like I keep having to make these confessions.  Some shows I just did not care enough about to see.  I have never been the type of person who needs to see every show or movie.  I am really selective and sometimes that means I miss out on great things.  That said, I heard they added some shows for Yeast Nation so I pounced on tickets.  For $15, it did not seem like much of a risk.

Plot: Uhm, yeast, all named Jan, live at the bottom of the sea (I was hoping there would also be a pineapple there but there was not) eating salt and trying not to procreate because the salt food is running out.  The leader of the yeast rules with an iron "fist" and does not tolerate anyone breaking the rules he has laid down for this society.  But his son, Jan the Second, thinks that they cannot survive if things remain as they are.  His daughter, Jan the Sly, wants her goody-two-shoes brother out of the way so she can be in charge.

Yeah, there you go.   Sort of Shakespeare meets Treehuggers. The cast included Harriet Harris (who I haven't seen on stage since Jeffrey) as Jan the Unnamed.

I think you have to be of one of two minds about this show.  Do you look at this as a $15 fringe production?  Or do you look at this as the product of Tony-award winning creators?  For a $15 fringe production, it was amusing at times.  Not laugh out loud funny.  It was a limited idea and I smiled from time to time.  The performers were really a cut above for a fringe work but the duct-tape covered rocks moved around as set pieces reminded me of exactly where I was. 

The cast did their best to play up the broad comedy.  The voices were generally strong overall.  I really liked the full chorus number "Stasis."  I liked several of the leads for their comic turns (in particular Jan the Wise & Jan the Sly) but thought the young boy, who was the voice of reason, and the leader of the yeast were not very good. It is too bad because I felt like that counter-point voice of reason was really important to the tone of the piece and would have liked more from that "character."

But I just didn't think it was sharp or witty enough for me.  If I was to change lenses and consider this an offering of Tony-award winning creators I'd say, what the eff?  It felt like it was only half-baked (ugh not even trying to make a yeast pun).  At two and a half hours, it needs trimming and sharpening.  It oscillates between being silly and trying to thoughtfully execute a message.  For example, if a yeast gets it's membrane punctured they shout out "Noooooo, my jelly."  Words like jelly, magma, jamboree are used because they are funny words...but that might be the extent of the humor.  The thoughtful message about limited resources, learning to adapt and change...yeah I get it but the delivery was weird and not really engaging.

The cast really did the best they could with what they were given.  The strongest comedy came from the Machiavellian scheming by the leader's daughter, Jan the Sly (Joy Suprano) and the leader's consigliere, Jan the Wise (Manu Narayan).  But I am afraid it wasn't enough for me to be fully on board.  I'd like to see it tightened and funnier if it is going to have life beyond the fringe.

I had a pleasant evening for a $15 fringe show. But it was not the riotous comedy I was hoping for.

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