by Leta Tremblay · August 21, 2015
Shawn Shafner | Ellise Lesser
Never did I think that I would willingly sit in a theatre for 70 minutes and listen to an actor extol the virtues of bowel movements. Until now.
Upon entering The White Box at 440 Studios, we are welcomed to a Fred Talk that will be given by Oscar, an esteemed academic. It soon becomes apparent though, to Dr. Oscar and to us, that something has gone terribly awry and a mysterious person calling himself “The Puru” will instead be hijacking the presentation (literally taking over Oscar’s body when he touches the provided cue cards) to educate us on humankind’s historical, cultural, and personal relationship with … poop. A word as contaminated to our ears as the object which it describes.
A brief glance at creator and performer Shawn Shafner’s resume, demonstrates clearly that this is not his first rodeo talking about poop on the stage. An Inconvenient Poop is only the most recent of three works on the topic (the others are a documentary and a musical) that he has performed around the world including at the United Nations for World Toilet Day. He’s been featured on the radio and profiled in print interviews. He’s starting a revolution.
Shafner is The Puru. And he is also Oscar, a straight laced professor as intensely uncomfortable talking about doo as most of us in the audience probably are. Shafner slides effortlessly back and forth between these two characters using the juxtaposition to illuminate our own discomfort with the material. While Oscar voices and heightens our own protests at every turn, we are able to associate, learn, grow, and change our ideas along with him.
But this theatrical conceit doesn’t let us off the hook completely. The audience is very much an active participant in the conversation. One of my favorite moments occurred when Shafner revealed examples of gender inequality in the design and accessibility of public restrooms in the US. Did you know that female Representatives did not have a facility on the same floor as the House until 2011? I had no idea. And judging from the audible response around me, my fellow audience members didn’t either.
Consumerism and environmental sustainability are two other hot topic points that The Puru discusses in his lecture. He examines what he calls “consumer constipation” or the imbalance between consumption and creation (double entendre intended). The idea that the more we consume the happier we’ll be is not only inaccurate it’s irresponsible given the amount of waste that the US produces. All forms of waste. The Puru is correct when he says that “we can’t buy our way to a sustainable planet” and “it’s not always easy to face our shit.”
Shafner presents these problems and ideas for change in an authentic and genuine way. Beyond the theatrics, which are cleverly tied together by director Annie G. Levy and her team, there is a real sincerity, truth, and belief shared by Shafner that we are all part of the solution. This not just a play, or a Fred Talk, it’s an education and a call to arms. We are all “The Puru”.
And by the end of the event, after our journey from Roman communal bathhouses to Victorian bourgeoisie ideas about propriety, Shafner had us all up on our feet chanting and singing like a gospel choir. About poop. And the important role that it plays in all of our lives and in our future.