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Mime Troupe On Sick List In HMO Satire
Steven Winn, Chronicle Staff Critic
July 06, 1998

Sleeping Man DAMAGED CARE: Agitprop comedy. By Joan Holden and Karim Scarlatta. Performed by the San Francisco Mime Troupe, directed by Dan Chumley. The San Francisco Mime Troupe taps its commedia dell'arte roots for the 1998 free summer parks show. Masks, dance, some puppetry, slapstick and a quasi-Italian setting may decorate the proceedings, but it's no magic elixir.

"Damaged Care," which opened Saturday at Dolores Park, continues the troupe's regrettable recent slump. Slackly plotted and performed, the show takes a slow-footed trudge through the modern health-care mess.

Joan Holden and Karim Scarlata's 75- minute script is knowing and sharply observed in spots. But "Care" lacks the spine and kinetic energy that make this kind of political theater capture a crowd.

Events don't detonate and build for the beleaguered nurses, woebegone patients and scheming administrators. Things happen and happen some more, without much acting muscle, and then it's over.

It's a message -- a plea for universal health care -- without a bottle.

Ed Holmes plays his customary Mime Troupe role, and not very smartly, as a corpulent CEO villain.

This time he's Doctor Capitano, an executive determined to raise profits by cutting services and privatizing Bologna General Hospital. A black-caped venture capitalist (Victor Toman) goads him on with threats of another corporation's takeover bid.

Velina Brown plays weary Nurse Basil, a "care junkie" who can't quite bring herself to quit. Keiko Shimosato is a new resident fried by a 136-hour shift and heavy student loans. Amos Glick, as an aide turned unqualified "medical associate," becomes a pawn in Capitano's union-busting plan.


The plot, such as it is, turns on a hapless patient -- Michael Gene Sullivan as the stock commedia figure Arlecchino -- who comes in with a mysterious lump and falls in love with Nurse Basil. Bad enough that he gets the runaround about his lump ("Follow the blue line to the exit") -- he nearly ends up with a broken heart as well.

The story stutters and never really gets going, and no one in the cast makes much of an impression. But "Damaged Care" does score some dead hits on HMO madness. The single funniest scene parodies hospital voice-mail hell perfectly. A knockabout scene in the emergency room has a good dose of black humor, too.

Dead patients get sent to the "parts department" for organ harvesting. Others are advised to call 1-800-NOT SICK for telephone triage.


"Damaged Care" could use a wilder, angrier streak all along. Director Dan Chumley uses puppets to suggest how patients get treated as objects. But there's nothing audacious or inventive in the clunky direction. Cast member Toman's spry ensemble dances are a bright spot at the start and finish of the show.

The Mime Troupe's July 4 openings always draw a faithful throng, and Saturday's was no exception. But it's hard not to sense something perfunctory behind the loyalty.

The Troupe's shows are just not as vivid and agile as they once were. With last year's dreary "Killing Time" and the ordinary "Soul Suckers from Outer Space" in '96, the company has hit a three-year lull. Remember "Back to Normal," "Coast City Confidential," "Secrets in the Sand" and the popular "Factwino" cartoons?

Maybe a great script could lure the sorely missed Sharon Lockwood from her Mime Troupe retirement. Let's hope so, and hope that one of the country's true-blue political theaters can recover its vital signs next year.

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