What is Yeast Nation?

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) has already broken a pretty major NYC record. It sold out its run at the Fringe Festival (think small independent theater) faster than any show before. What, exactly, is drawing people to a musical about yeast? Simple. Yeast Nation comes from the creators of Urinetown, the brilliant social satire musical about a world where people have to pay to use a single public restroom in a last ditch effort to save the limited clean water supply. If you don't pay, you can't go without facing a trip to Urinetown. It's an amazing piece of theater that could easily still be running on Broadway if the house it was playing in didn't shut down and get sold for construction.

Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann have turned their attention to the oldest story ever known: the rise of yeast. Every character is named Jan and every character has one goal. They all need more salt to eat so they can stay alive.

Maybe their press video makes it easier to understand.

I think I'm all confused about this show again. Let me explain what I know. A tyrannical king, Jan, has become incredibly greedy. He is trying to do everything for himself and not helping his yeast citizens. The yeast are growing increasingly frustrated, exploring life, love, relationships, natural resources, and power in relation to the king's share. If the story sounds familiar, it is because they wanted the show to feel timeless.

What I respect the most about the production is their attempt to avoid any pop culture references that the yeast wouldn't know about. Since the yeast pre-date all recorded history, they can't know anything about Shakespeare or Aristophanes or Britney Spears. They know what they have and their relationships. I've read a few reviews that suggest the musical is riffing on the form of certain historical events, but I'm leaning towards coincidences. There are only so many basic stories that can be told. What differentiates them all is the details.

Set on a stark black stage (like all Fringe shows) with Greek costumes, Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) sets a mythic scene to deal with the absurdities of the story and strange character choice. It wisely opens up the odd concept into something more relatable. People might not know exactly how ancient yeast worked, but they do know what the standards of Greek theater are.

Here's their preview reel from the Fringe Festival.

Who knows if this show will have much of a life beyond this festival? It's hard to say. An Off-Broadway run with more development seems guaranteed because of the creators of the show, but that's as far as I can guess right now.

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