Mark Hollman, Paul Urcioli, Bill Coelius, Eva van Dok,
 and Greg Kotis in Eat the Taste

(Photo © Tyler Micoleau)
Mark Hollman, Paul Urcioli, Bill Coelius, Eva van Dok,
and Greg Kotis in Eat the Taste
(Photo © Tyler Micoleau)
Eat the Taste has got to be the most offbeat sequel to a hit musical ever written. Greg Kotis, who won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Original Score of a Musical (with composer and co-lyricist Mark Hollman) for Urinetown, has concocted a near-future scenario in which government agents kidnap the writer -- played by Kotis himself -- because they want the Urinetown creators to craft a one-man musical about and starring John Ashcroft. Apparently, the attorney general is a big fan. "He completely identified with the Cladwell character," one of the agents tells Kotis. (For those unfamiliar with Urinetown, Caldwell B. Cladwell is a profiteering political leader who uses a water shortage to catapult himself to power, curtailing civil liberties and visiting harsh punishments upon those who disobey or challenge his draconian measures.)

Clearly, Eat the Taste has a Pirandellian conceit. Not only does Kotis play himself, but Mark Hollman appears as Mark Hollman. Actor Gibson Frazier plays real-life producer Matthew Rego of the Araca Group, who produced Urinetown on Broadway. And the director of Eat the Taste is none other than John Clancy, who was the founding artistic director of the New York International Fringe Festival, where Urinetown debuted. The script is a satirical spoof, full of witty gibes at current political leaders and the process of creating a hit Broadway musical. Though in-jokes abound, the show is strong enough to stand on its own merits. Smartly directed by Clancy, the production is quickly paced, with some hilarious bits of stage business and terrific performances by the cast.

The two agents from the Dept. of Homeland Security, Number 3 (Bill Coelius) and Number 72 (Paul Urcioli), make for a delightfully comic pair; the actors' physical mannerisms, vocal delivery, and sense of timing are pitch perfect. Eva van Dok, as Agent 20 from the Dept. of Justice, also has her moments as the ringleader of the covert mission. Kotis proves just as funny a performer as he is a writer; his reactions to the bizarre goings-on around him are priceless. Frazier brings a manic edge to his portrayal of Matthew Rego, which hits its high point when he's straddling Kotis and bouncing him up and down on the bed in a desperate attempt to get the writer to agree to the multi-million dollar Ashcroft project. Hollmann is the only one who seems a bit stiff onstage, but he does offer a very funny rendition of his and Kotis's brand new song "Shaking Off the Chains." (The gospel-inflected tune is supposed to be the opening number of the Ashcroft musical.)

Eat the Taste is playing at the Barrow Street Theatre on Monday nights only, when the hit Bug is dark. Consequently, the two shows share the same basic set: a motel room, designed by Lauren Helpern. Yet Clancy takes full advantage of the set, as if it had been built specifically for this production. Tyler Micoleau's lighting, Brian Ronan's sound design, and Kim Gill's costumes are fine, while J. David Brimmer contributes a hilarious and convincing fight sequence.

The action of Eat the Taste is set about four years into the future, and the play works from the premise that the outcome of this November's election is going to be a Bush-Cheney win. The writer's own politics are called into question within the play as the government agents grill him about his loyalties. However, there's less bite in this than might be expected; Kotis has crafted a funny, gently political romp that keeps the audience laughing but avoids any in-depth critique of the current administration.