Monday, October 22, 2007

Walmartopia Is No Utopian Theater

I thought I’d treat the staff to a night of theater last week, so tickets were bought for something I hoped would be entertaining and at the same time work-related.

Off we went to Greenwich Village’s Minetta Lane Theatre for the off-Broadway musical, Walmartopia. The play, or more correctly, the screed, has some energetic performances, and even some decent songs, but the overall feeling one gets is that the production resembled a union pep rally rather than a serious attempt at social commentary.

The premise behind Walmartopia is that everything Wal-Mart is bad, especially the way it treats its employees. It time-travels its two protagonists, a mother and daughter who work in a Wisconsin Wal-Mart, into the future world of 2037 when Wal-Mart rules everywhere but Vermont.

Political and social commentary has always been part and parcel of the theater, from Greek tragedies and comedies down through the current crop of musicals and dramas. Among current offerings, the Broadway musical Hairspray, for example, lampoons the racial and social divide of the 1950s and 1960s; the off-Broadway revival of Masked uses the Intifada as a backdrop for family relationships amid a struggle for suppressed nationalism.

The best theater leads the audience to the intended conclusion, not with a whip but with a whisper (or, at the very least, something less than a scream). But Walmartopia has no aspirations to be great theater. Walmartopia wields a sledgehammer to attack Wal-Mart for all manner of real and imagined transgressions. Subtlety was a class in dramatic writing that the authors apparently skipped.

—Murray Forseter

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