Mime Troupe Out of 'Time' Issue-laden summer show short on character and wit
By: Steven Winn, Chronicle Staff Critic
Monday, July 7, 1997
KILLING TIME: Political comedy. By the San Francisco Mime Troupe. Directed by Michael Gene Sullivan. (Through September 1. In Bay Area parks. Free. Call (415) 646-0639.)
Times are tough for the San Francisco Mime Troupe. As it scraps for scarce funding, the 35- year-old topical satire company soldiers on in an era of widespread political indifference.
The hero of the Troupe's tired new show, "Killing Time," sums up the malaise in his fuming shrug of an exit line. "Life in the '90s, man, it sucks," says the office temp/waiter Jacob. "Oh well."
The Mime Troupe's 1997 summer parks show, which opened over the July 4 holiday weekend in Dolores Park, is pretty much a shrug itself. The 70- minute comedy with music ticks off a laundry list of causes and complaints but shows almost none of the Troupe's flair for dynamic plot, vivid caricature or theatrical wit. It's all agenda and precious little art.
TRADING DREAMS FOR BENEFITS
Michael Oosterom plays Jacob, a glum 27-year-old San Franciscan who's already given up on his dreams. An office job at a corporation is his settle-for-less paradise. "If I'm never going to do anything that counts," he reasons, "it might as well be with benefits."
Jacob's reward is to be laid off by Galactic Electric (GE) and abandoned by his roommates and girlfriend (Keiko Shimosato). She leaves him for a dreamy-eyed save-the-redwoods activist (the versatile Conrad Cimarra).
STREET PERSON WITH A PLAN
In despair, Jacob lets the street person who's been collecting bottles in front of his apartment move in and run down her 10-point program for saving America. The audience hears only six of them from the character, played with spirit by Velina Brown, but that's plenty. Among her ideas: Turn off your TVs. Vote. End corporate welfare.
Ed Holmes plays the evil corporate CEO Jack Belch. He's a walking heart attack with a cigar chomped in his mouth and a cell phone at the ready to issue orders for wholesale layoffs and high-interest loans. Belch does get one cheer from the crowd, when he raises a middle finger at the Mormons as his jet flies over Utah.
"Killing Time" straggles toward a climax concocted from a few wispy plot surprises and a tacked-on cautionary message under Michael Gene Sullivan's pokey direction. The final scenes take place at the Bohemian Grove, where Belch bows to no one, not even Alan Greenspan or Bill Clinton.
"I'm the government," Belch declares, an emblem of big business that will manipulate inflation, recession, unemployment -- anything to keep profits up. Oosterom does a neat little turn as Clinton, a windbag Kentucky colonel in a wide-lapel suit.
Any script bearing Joan Holden's name -- she shares writing credit with Gregory R. Tate and Kate Chumley -- will have its flurry of expertly sharpened darts. Clinton is one victim, mocked for his waffling and racial-harmony sound bites. Twentysomething whiners also get zapped for their TV addictions and mindless materialism.
But the characters and the comic structure fall well below the Troupe's standards.
Brown gives an assertive performance as the truth-telling underdog, but her character is nothing but a collection of misfortunes: Gulf War vet, ex-junkie, grieving mother, embattled wife and so on. She's a long way from the keenly articulated tragic heroine Sharon Lockwood played in the Troupe's "Coast City Confidential" two years ago.
And this show's slack plotting is inferior to that of last year's modest effort, "Soul Suckers From Outer Space." Even the earth- toned set looks drab.