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Theater Review (Off Broadway, 2015 NYC Fringe Festival): ‘An Inconvenient Poop’

'AN INCONVENIENT POOP,' Shawn Shafner, 2015 NY Fringe Festival
‘AN INCONVENIENT POOP,’ created by Shawn Shafner, directed by Annie G. Levy at 2015 NY Fringe Festival. Photo by Carole Di Tosti

“We are all poopers. We need to stop our fecal denial and talk about what to do with our shit!” This is the resounding message of An Inconvenient Poop, one of the notable offerings at the 2015 New York Fringe Festival, in its world premiere. A fantastical and humorous solo production created and performed by Shawn Shafner and directed by Annie G. Levy, it reminds us of the importance of  appropriate waste treatment and of the promiscuous and extravagant squandering of trillions of gallons of water without conscious consideration, as we indiscriminately flush for a tiny pee or a singular one-inch “poo.”

The production cleverly raises awareness about wasted water expenditure, improper sanitation causing sickness and death, and global health crises from dirty water, all overwhelming problems for the planet. It does this by confronting head-on the taboo subject of human waste. It correlates our avoidance of dealing with such overwhelming global problems with our inherent embarrassment about pooping and farting. The ludicrousness of this, given that if we don’t eliminate our waste we die, is beyond the pale.

The problem even manifests in public bathroom stalls where we try to be as quiet as mice while we defecate and break wind. Let’s face it! Many of us are ashamed of our bodies and their “animal” functions, and most of us feel a weird humiliation about producing our daily “gross domestic product.”

An Inconvenient Poop is a big-hearted effort to remind us of our shared humanity and to “get the conversation moving” through our alimentary canal of intelligence about what to do with our “poop” before it “hits the fan.”

Writer Shafner portrays two characters: Oscar, the uptight professor in a bowtie and ill-fitting suit who is a fecal denier, and the enlightened Puru (Shafner in a voice-over narration with the help of screen projections). The Puru turns the tables on Oscar and teaches him about various and sundry items related to human defecation both currently and historically.

He cites humorous quotes from Erasmus and Freud, shows pictures of ancient toilets in Persia, discusses the facility of European bidets, gives the percentage of those with fecal contamination in their underwear, and lightly examines our 20th-century poo humiliation pinpointing Miss Manners’ dictum about “unmentionables” in polite society to solidify “good breeding.”

It is not a coincidence that the intense body-shaming related to defecation and smelling bad parallels the sale of products mitigating and disappearing our shared humanity: underarm deodorants, bathroom and home air fresheners, toilet cleansers that produce blue water to clean as you flush, etc. With Madison Avenue’s assembly-line images of perfect bodies that belie nature with an absence of unwanted secretions, smells and sounds (belching and farting to name a few), we were and are encouraged to be consumers who eliminate as many human “flaws” as possible, including all unwanted nose and body hair – to be and look perfect. Pooping and farting and belching were and are trotted out and acknowledged only as grist for the joke mill.

Yet, as the Puru encourages everyone in the audience to affirm, eliminating waste is not an embarrassing act that we should be ashamed of. We are not committing a sin if someone in the next stall hears or smells us. We are doing what we all must do to be well: eliminate. And despite their fashionable images, celebrities are poopers, too.

The production suggests we must own up to this, if we are going to make cogent decisions about global initiatives like World Toilet Day, composting our own waste, collection centers for urine which is then brought to a waste treatment plant to conserve water (areas of Vermont do this), and circumspect toilet flushing (e.g. not flushing during heavy rainstorms because the rainwater is in overflow pipes and ends up in the same place as sewage).

Shawn Shafner, 'AN INCONVENIENT POOP,' 2015 NY Fringe Festival
Shawn Shafner (right) in the Talk Back for ‘AN INCONVENIENT POOP’ with festival moderator (left). Photo by Carole Di Tosti

By the end of the production the audience is convinced of the rightness of lifting the veil of shame. We empathize with the professor as we are convinced by Shawn the Puru to join him and become one with the cause. Symbolizing his grown-up freedom, Oscar sheds the straitjacket-suit of conservatism and dons a vibrant outfit. He encourages the audience to stand and clap away humiliation with the admission of their humanity – that they are “poopers.”

The topic is a vital one, and the vehicle for the message is humor and the grace of honesty which is needed during this time of growing water shortages and climate change. The global deaths of 2,000 a day because of “dirty water,” lack of toilets and poor sanitation is a matter of urgency.

We simply cannot dismiss what makes all of us human, the common denominator of rich and poor, simply because it seems untoward or unappealing. As Shafner good-naturedly encourages us to understand, we must acknowledge that Miss Manners was spreading uptightness and “good breeding” to create the need for more chemicals in our environment to rid us of our imperfections. We can no longer afford the luxury of this “perfection” fantasy. We must take charge and be honest about who we are and how we look. We must do more about sustainable waste management and not just here, but globally.

After some of the performances there have been informative talkbacks with Shafner. He is a fount of information about waste management, how he was inspired to write such a show, its evolution, and various productions around the world. He also encourages those present to join with those like Bill and Melinda Gates, Patricia Arquette, and Matt Damon who are advocating for water sustainability and waste treatment plants like those found at Omega Institute‘s OCSL, which treat and recycle waste water through filtration processes found in nature and without toxic chemicals.

The performances have been sold out. However, there are tickets available on August 29 at 7:30 pm. It’s worth a look-see. You can become involved with the POOP Project by clicking here.

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About Carole Di Tosti

Carole Di Tosti, Ph.D. is a published writer, novelist and poet. She authors three blogs:
The Fat and the Skinny, All Along the NYC Skyline, A Christian Apologists’ Sonnets.
She contributed articles for Technorati on various trending topics. She guest writes for other blogs. She covers NYC trending events and writes articles promoting advocacy. She was a former English Instructor. Her published dissertation is referenced in three books, two by Margo Ely.

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