Review: Fringe Festival---Yeast Nation (the triumph of life)
An infectious new musical from the Urinetown team hits the Fringe Festival.
Fri Aug 19 2011
Photograph: Dixie Sheridan
HARD CELL Harris's crone leads a yeasty ensemble of early organisms.
Time Out Ratings<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
In conception, execution, cast and design, Yeast Nation rises far above the usual scrappy Fringe Festival fare. Created by Urinetown's Greg Kotis and Mark Hollman, the musical shares many of that show's themes, character types and dramatic devices; it is a brazenly self-aware Malthusian parable about resource allocation, albeit one set in the primordial sea instead of a pee-shy dystopia. Jan the Elder (George McDaniel) presides over a community of salt-eating yeast creatures, all also named Jan, whose supply of nutrients is dwindling; his handsome son, Jan the Second (Erik Altemus), dreams of seeking new sources of food, in defiance of the colony's tough "strictures." But in the emerging Darwinian universe of the show, good intentions—and true love—are not always the fittest tools of survival.
Under Kotis's gimlet-eyed direction, a first-class ensemble leavens the show with intense ironic commitment. As a blind, witchy seer, the divine Harriet Harris hisses, moans and stumbles with consummate comic prowess; Manu Narayan and Joy Suprano are deliciously entertaining villains; and Emily Tarpey is charming as Jan the Sweet, a nice girl hardened by circumstance. (Jennifer Blood, Kimiko Glenn and the flavorful Rick Crom also merit mention.) But there remains important work to be done on the score's frequently rotten lyrics, which are a major drag on Hollman's clever, rousing music. Some of the artlessness is surely intended for blunt comedic effect, but that joke has gone stale from overuse; implicit meta quotation marks can only do so much to excuse jejune, punch-on-the-nose writing (e.g., "Those strictures stink—that's what I think/They stink so bad it really blows"). Yeast Nation deserves a run beyond the Fringe, but its more primitive components will first need to evolve.