Bold farce? Amen to that
Nothing is sacred in the Mime Troupe's `Godfellas,' which besides being brazenly funny is also topical.
David C. Nichols, Special to The Times
September 22, 2006
The imperiled separation of church and state drives "Godfellas," which plays the Actors' Gang through Sunday. Although no actual pies enter the fray, more than one sacred cow drips with figurative meringue before this subversive bust-up by the San Francisco Mime Troupe reaches its rousing conclusion.
Since 1959, the Mime Troupe has served up renegade fare with a socially relevant bent, and "Godfellas" is as bent as it gets. Written by Michael Gene Sullivan with Jon Brooks, Eugenie Chan and Christian Cagigal, "Godfellas" concerns a constitutional amendment to establish a national day of prayer on Sept. 11.
That's what the Rev. C.B. De Love (Sullivan, hilarious) sells in his "Rock the Lord" crusade. All becomes clear when he sings, "But I'm not working for Jesus / Got Jesus working for me."
What neither De Love, who suggests James Brown channeling Jimmy Swaggart with Polly Bergen's hair, nor his cronies in the Ecumenical Syndicate foresee is protagonist Angela Franklin (the delightful Velina Brown). When the syndicate transforms her nonprofit civics program into the Academy of Christian Citizenship and Abstinence Studies, disenfranchised Thomas Paine devotee Angela takes to the Golden Gate Bridge to end it all.
Before now, "Godfellas" has merely been brazenly funny and tuneful, thanks to Bruce Barthol's score (additional material by Pat Moran and Amos Glick). However, when rail-hanging Angela has a revelation that brings grieving wartime parents, a Hindu jogger and a park ranger into her purview, "Godfellas" goes on a ruthless topical tear that seldom slackens.
Launching her Citizens for a God-Free America campaign, Angela locks horns with De Love's ministry, Jesus Christ Loves You -- "The J.C.L.U.?" asks the wary ensemble. One of "Godfella's" best aspects is its determination to skewer the dogmatic of every persuasion. Once activist Angela becomes a media darling, she grows indistinguishable from her foes, and therein hangs the point.
Staged with assurance by "director-wrangler" Ed Holmes, this commedia-inflected approach is ideally suited to hammering home the topic in an era when social studies take a classroom backseat to standardized tests. The designs are wonderful, especially the forced perspective set designed by Michael Carreiro, Paul Garber and Holmes, and the players are sublime in multiple roles.
Besides Brown and Sullivan, co-author Cagigal is a hoot, recalling the young Eugene Levy. Lisa Hori-Garcia is a comic terror. Costume designer Keiko Shimosato switches characters so quickly you forget it's one person. And the iron-jawed Kevin Rolston steals the show, whether as thug-voiced nun or country gospel singer. They and the invaluable band (Moran, Doug Port and Jara Queeto) let nobody off the hook, and amen to that.