by Harvey Perr
published September 4, 2007
now playing Off Broadway at the
Minetta Lane Theatre
There is nothing more dismaying than being surrounded by adults whooping, hollering, laughing wildly and applauding incessantly at
a puerile piece of theatrical foolishness like WALMARTOPIA, especially if you are sitting there, bewildered, wondering how the show got up
on the stage in the first place. One’s first inclination is to ask if the dumbing down of audiences has finally come full cycle, if the
stupidity that runs rampant these days has reached a kind of desperate madness. Or is it just that old familiar story of the producers
asking the cast to invite their legions of friends, lovers and loyal followers to fill the house and go wild because critics are in tow? One suspects, of course, it is the latter. And, even though this
gambit hardly ever really works, because a critic is bound to be doubly disturbed by such inappropriate behavior, it not only occurs over
and over again, but, more often than not, it is apt to make the critic sour on whatever minor virtues the evening might possess.
So be warned that there might be some slight exaggeration on my part when I say that I can’t remember when a more pointless or
witless entertainment than WALMARTOPIA has come down the pike. As a satiric target, the idea that the country will one day be state-by
state, city-by-city, county-by-county, wall-to wall Walmart Country is pretty lame (though the corresponding idea that Vermont, thanks to
those entrepreneurial revolutionaries, Ben and Jerry, is the one hold-out against this evil corporate takeover deserves at least a forced
smile). Worse, this concept, tired though it may be, doesn’t take hold until the second act. And we have to muddle through the dreary first
act which turns out to be only a set-up for the silly shenanigans that follow. And, before it resolves itself with the villains naturally getting their comeuppance, the audience is privy to the most heavy-handed preaching I can
assure you will be heard on any stage this season. One hopes against hope that I am at least
right about that.
Because we have heard and therefore know how Walmart treats its employees, a good deal of what is meant to be funny is, more often
than not, downright depressing. And our main character, a woman who vainly prays for a promotion she so clearly will never get, seems so
dense that rather than feel sympathy for her plight, we want to slap her around for being so stupid. Besides, it is difficult to care about
anyone who has to spend so much time with such blatantly gross caricatures swirling around her without noticing that plain and simple
The book completely misses out on its intended humor, the lyrics are inane, the score generic, and, directorially, there is not
one single interesting idea that is anywhere to be seen. The worst tendencies of the performers, despite fitful glimmers of real talent,
are indulged rather than curbed (as they should be at this point in their careers). I will not name names because, hopefully, they will all
move on and see better days.
It should be noted that the one truly professional touch is the imaginative set design by the ubiquitous David Korins whose rich
gifts are somewhat squandered here.
harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com