Walmartopia

  • Date:
    September 1, 2007
    Review by:
    Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.


    A Review by Barbara Mehlman and Geri Manus.

    Here in America, we like to think of ourselves as right-minded citizens who care about truth, justice and the American Way. So when we learn of a corporation that violates that which we hold dear, we may sign petitions or even boycott their products. Our latest target Wal-Mart. Only thing is, we don't seem to care. Knowing what we know, we shop there anyway.

    Not a week goes by that there isn't a newspaper article that condemns the Supermarketer's employee policies. So why is Wal-Mart thriving? Not only is it the largest company in the world, it is the largest company in the history of the world. Every week, more than 100 million customers shop Wal-Mart. And despite it's anti-employee policies, it is the world's largest employer with 1.6 million "associates."

    It seems that we are increasingly loath to stand up for our beliefs if it's in conflict with our wallets. Or more concretely stated, if the blender we want is $50 at Bed, Bath & Beyond but $35 at Wal-Mart, we'll shut down our superegos and go to Wal-Mart.

    Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and author of the newly published "Super Capitalism" takes a sober look at this classic example of cognitive dissonance, and in dense prose, discusses it for 288 pages.

    For a more entertaining -- and shorter -- version of this disturbing phenomenon, with a fair amount of bite, you'd do well to see the hilarious "Walmartopia," now having a successful run in Greenwich Village. Part spoof, part satire, part Orwellian horror tale, this is the story of Vicki Latrell, single parent, minority woman, desperately trying to get promoted after five years of following orders at the world's favorite big-box store.

    Played with convincing emotion and a powerhouse voice by Cheryl Freeman, Vicki and her daughter Maia (Nikki M. James) take us behind the scenes and shelves to a world where everyone sings the company song, wears a smiley face, and gets a demerit if they're late. But Vicki grits her teeth and bears it because as Miguel (Bradley Dean) the janitor says, "it's better than picking strawberries."

    Wal-Mart, by its very nature, is the perfect backdrop for our closet desires to amass huge amounts of "stuff" at bargain basement prices, company philosophy be damned. Who cares if the greeters at the door, with their huge "smiley" faces, can't pay their doctor bills? We got a gallon of milk for $1.50. And a winter coat for $50. Need bread? Need a shirt? Need a tire? Need a gun? Wal-Mart!

    From its opening number, "Walmartopia" is out-of-the-box, side-splitting humor. In "March of the Executives," the carbon-copy execs sing about the parking lots of the "gi-normous" company being larger than the combined square mileage of Cameroon and Switzerland. But by Act II, the musical inexplicably lurches into a sermon and loses its momentum.

    This "Utopian" part of the production becomes preachy, forgetting that it's supposed to be funny. Amidst fantastical silly science fiction time warps, a disembodied head of Sam Walton, and Vermont tree huggers, Vicki and Maia take on Wal-Mart and attempt to bring it down, thereby holding up the flagging production.

    In her show-stopping number, Freeman asks the ultimate question about being a role model for her daughter in "What Kind of Mother." She too is in conflict, spouting the company line and condemning it at the same time.

    So far, thank goodness, the one thing that can't happen is Wal-Mart coming to Manhattan since New York has been relentless in its support of neighborhood bodegas over bargains. But "Walmartopia" did manage to infiltrate the Village, and we actually benefit with high quality entertainment at a bargain price -- only $60 a ticket.

    Barbara Mehlman & Geri Manus