‘Transylvania’ caps off mime troupe’s 40th year
John Angell Grant
July 10, 2001
The San Francisco Mime Troupe brings its new musical play “1600 Transylvania” to Berkeley next weekend with Saturday and Sunday afternoon performances at Cedar Rose Park.
This is the company’s 40th year performing free shows around the Bay Area. “1600 Transylvania” is one of the best Mime Troupe productions I’ve seen.
With interesting story twists and turns, it’s a thoughtful and timely moral fable about economic compromise – about getting one’s principles bought out.
Set in and around today’s White House,” 1600 Transylvania” – written by Michael Gene Sullivan and Ellen Callas – borrows from Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” and some complicated political analysis of court decisions that used the 14th Amendment (1868) to the Constitution to give corporations the same legal rights as individual citizens.
Director Sullivan, the acting ensemble and the band have put together a terrific production – funny and tight (a 70-minute running time with no intermission), with suspense in the story right up to the very end.
“1600 Transylvania” interweaves several story strands. At the top, reporters at a White House Press conference explain to the new guy Renfield (Conrad Cimarra) why it is not acceptable procedure to ask the tough questions – such as why is the president’s top advisor in the energy business? Or what are the vice president’s connections to power company Enron.
When Renfield persists with the tough questions, he’s rewarded with a high paying job working for the president – at the same time that a vampire bat bites him.
In a parallel story, young high tech entrepreneurs Shamina (Velina Brown) and Lucy (Anastasia Coon) pitch their new product which switches televisions to low power during commercials.
But the vice president doesn’t like it because his political cabal has discovered that the route to power lies in lulling citizens to inaction through the lifestyle fantasies communicated in television commercials.
One of the women is bought off, and the entrepreneuses’ business taken over by a company that manufactures gasoline-powered air conditioners in Tierra del Fuego. Says one observer, “There’re some little girls down there who really need the jobs.”
Meanwhile, hospital researcher Professor Van Helsing (Victor Toman) tries to track down a strange epidemic that turns “normal people into servants of evil.” He traces it to a mutation of bloodsuckers that emerged in the wake of 14th Amendment court decisions.
And so it goes. Practically everyone is co-opted by the money/vampire sickness.
The comedic acting is terrific, in vintage, broad Mime Troupe style. Conrad Cimarra is funny as the tough journalist Renfield, turned tortured mind-controlled presidential goon.
As the vice president, Ed Holmes is a striking Dick Cheney look-alike, both physically and in his body carriage, with hands folded in that manner of Cheney’s that is both benign and threatening.
This vice president promises the country “a genetically altered chicken in every pot.”
Brown is great as naïve dot-commer Shamina, looking for love, and not quite getting it. Coon is a house afire as her brassy sold-out partner.
Amos Glick plays the young president with a Texas accent who promises to put our country’s trust “in the corporate community.”
The show’s short song and dance numbers are great, with music by Jason Sherbundy, and funny, pointed political lyrics by longtime Mime Trouper Bruce Barthol of Country Joe and the Fish fame.
Dot-commer Shamina (Brown) sings a sweet love ballad “Guy Named Gene” about falling for Renfield. Her business partner Lucy (Coon) stirs up sexy evil with her ode to money and power, “The Winning Side.”
Though still broad in typical Mime Troupe fashion, “1600 Transylvania” is a more complicated, thoughtful and interesting script than I’ve seen from the company in recent years. And, as always, a very timely one.
It opened July 4th in San Francisco’s Dolores Park to a captivated audience numbering in the thousands, who gave the company a rousing standing ovation at the end of the show.
For the Berkeley shows this weekend, get there early with your blanket and picnic if you want a good spot up close. And don’t forget the hat and sun block.
Planet theater reviewer John Angell Grant has written for “American Theater,” “Back Stage West,” “Callboard,” and many other publications. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.